A Bargain on the Wing: Why You Don't Trade Kessel

A Bargain on the Wing: Why You Don't Trade Kessel

Penguins

A Bargain on the Wing: Why You Don't Trade Kessel

Did you hear that Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan might, possibly, maybe, who really knows, not get along?

Sullivan infamously informed the media that Kessel was not dealing with a “significant injury” following the series against the Capitals, a comment that managed to snatch everyone’s attention.” – “The truth about Phil Kessel, Mike Sullivan and the Penguins” (Josh Yohe, The Athletic)

Ah, well that seals it. In a league where guys are praised for playing hurt, despite not disclosing injuries, Phil Kessel being hurt, kinda, but not significantly seals it. Sullivan and Kessel are so beyond repair we need to trade him or just put him on unconditional waivers for contract termination, because as we all know, 92 point seasons happen so frequently and easily, it won’t be an issue losing that.

Hang on, I’m hearing General Manager Jim Rutherford has some thoughts, we take you live:

“This is something that I believe has been blown out of proportion. I don’t know where this story started. It’s unfortunate. I don’t think it’s been any secret here for three years that Phil’s preference is to play with Gino…But for someone to suggest it’s an issue within our team, that can’t be taken care of or resolved, I don’t believe that’s accurate.” – “LeBrun Notebook: Kessel’s future, Carlson’s next contract and Kovalchuk’s return” (Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic)

So, I know I’m a couple weeks behind on this drama, (it is offseason, tBB SZN after all) and it’s been tweeted and written to death, but if we’re going to have this discussion, let’s have it rationally.

(Ed note: All stats and comparables will be run from the beginning of the 2015-16 season through the end of this season)

The Stats:

Since Phil Kessel’s arrival in Pittsburgh he has produced 83 goals, 138 assists for 221 points in 246 games played. Good for 12th in scoring between 2015-2018.

In that same time frame, he has 24 power play goals, 65 power play assists and 89 power play points. That’s tops on the Penguins and fourth in the NHL.

As noted good boy and Pensblog content boy Geoff noted in this thread, the power play runs through Phil Kessel.

Here are the people above him in power play production: Claude Giroux (20-74-94), Nikita Kucherov (34-59-93), Nicklas Backstrom (18-73-91). I know this will come off as shocking, but you aren’t getting any of them via trade without getting completely fleeced by the opposing GM, considering what those three represent to their respective clubs.

The next three under Phil: Evgeni Malkin (36-52-88), Sidney Crosby (33-54-87 because of course) and Patrick Kane (29-53-82). Replacing Phil Kessel’s production on the power play, after a season the Penguins set a record, is near impossible without worsening your team as a whole.

The Contract

Phil Kessel will count for $6.8M against the Penguins cap for the next four seasons thanks to Toronto retaining $1.2M of the contract.

Using CapFriendly’s comparison tool, we find the three RWs that have similar contracts to Phil are:

  • Jakub Voracek
  • Corey Perry
  • Bobby Ryan

Let’s put aside NMCs and just run some comparables here, assuming all players involved would waive and all trades would be one-for-one.

Voracek

If what some of the reports and speculation about Kessel is true, the Penguins would be willing to retain salary, in order to bring a similar contract in, this would be difficult because no one is retaining on Voracek’s current contract as it was signed with Philadelphia. It’s a year longer and counts for $8.25M against Philadelphia’s cap.

There’s also the stats.

The Flyers RW has played nine less games and produced 20 less points. Although not a steep drop off, what you’re gaining in cap hit doesn’t quite justify the production.

Perry

This one would be complete and utter lunacy. Corey Perry has played 11 games less than Phil and produced only 164 points in that time frame.

The cap hit would move up from $6.8M to $8.65M, but only for one less year. Even with an increasing cap ceiling, what you’re getting for your $8.65 isn’t close to what you’re getting for your $6.8.

Ryan

When your albatross of a contract is considered the prerequisite for a potential blockbuster trade involving arguably the best defenseman in the NHL…yeah. Even at $7.25, not worth it.

With 205 games played, Ryan has only produced 46 goals, 68 assists for 114 points. For those keeping score at home, that’s 107 points less than Phil.

The Playoffs

Injuries, attitude, deployment, whatever you want to call it, Phil undoubtedly had an underwhelming postseason in 2018.

That said, 9 points in 12 games for your middle-six right winger is still solid production, it’s just not the Phil Kessel production we’re used to.

Over the past three postseasons, we’ve seen Phil Kessel produce at just under a point per game clip in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In 61 games he’s amassed 19 goals, 35 assists good for 54 points. That ties him with Evgeni Malkin for second behind only Sidney Crosby.

Nipping at his heels is Alex Ovechkin, who I don’t know if you’ve heard, is still playing, but he’s nine points behind with 45.

I’ll leave the fancy stats and analytics to people like Geoff and Jesse, they’re better at them anyways.

In Conclusion

The Pittsburgh Penguins were two wins (and an overtime post from game 7) from their third straight Conference Final. A team that had played a record 49 games in the 2016 and 2017 playoffs, had finally run out of gas. When your corps had played over a half of a season in playoff games on top of three full regular seasons, chances are it’s going to lose some steam.

Maybe Phil Kessel is feuding with Mike Sullivan, maybe he isn’t, only those two and Jim Rutherford know. I do know that we’re talking about one of the most prolific goal scorers of this generation and a coach that manages to get the most out of everyone on his roster, they’ll figure it out.

There’s no guarantee Phil will have another career year next season, but there’s little outside of a “subpar” postseason that points to him slowing down significantly. When you’re the Pittsburgh Penguins and your goal is the Stanley Cup, the cap will always represent a problem. For a cap hit of $6.8M, Phil Kessel might be the best non-ELC bargain in the NHL.

Winning 38 playoff games in a three year span, sweeping changes aren’t necessary, just some tweaks and a longer offseason for your corps to get some rest and recovery. 

Trading Phil Kessel is akin to selling your car after it gets a flat tire.

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