#PhilKesselWeek: Potential Returns For Phil Kessel

#PhilKesselWeek: Potential Returns For Phil Kessel

Penguins

#PhilKesselWeek: Potential Returns For Phil Kessel

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With Phil Kessel having recently vetoed a trade to Minnesota, a team not on his 8-team “okay you can trade me there” list, GMJR and the Penguins are left with just two options for Phil: keep him or find a new trade partner that is closer to competing that would entice Kessel to give the go-ahead on a trade.

The first option is easy and comes with caveats to get the best out of Phil in 2019-20, but seems unlikely at this stage.

That leaves us with the second option, which Elliotte Friedman went into a bit earlier this week on 31 Thoughts (emphasis my own):

1. Here’s my sense of what’s going on with Phil Kessel: he vetoed a trade to Minnesota and the story is out because both teams are unhappy. He cannot be traded to the Wild without specific approval, and, if you know Kessel, you know he will stand up for his rights no matter what anyone else thinks. The fact it got out may make it even harder to complete, because he’ll push back against pressure.

I’d heard things went badly last season between him and the organization, and this confirms it. He knows he will be traded because there’s no benefit to staying, but he’s going to make sure it is on his terms if the Penguins want to send him anywhere other than his eight-team list. My guess is Arizona would be high on his choice of destinations, but I don’t see an easy fit. The Penguins want scoring in return and the Coyotes finished 28th in goals-for. Memorial Day weekend comes at a perfect time for everyone to take a deep breath, drink some strawberry daiquiris, then search for a solution.

2. You know who else can’t be thrilled? Jason Zucker. That’s twice (Calgary at the deadline) he’s been sent somewhere, only to have it aborted. Someone is going to get a very motivated player. He must want to strangle someone.

There are a few things to unpack here.  We can reasonably say that Phil Kessel, the #17 RW in Corsica’s rankings, has played his last game as a Penguin, but he’s only going somewhere that he wants to go.  That’s well within his rights and frankly, good on him for that.

The other is the Jason Zucker thing.  With the deal involving Phil for Zucker (plus Jack Johnson for Victor Rask) falling through, it gives us some information in terms of the type of player GMJR is after in a deal for Kessel.

That is: a left shot winger that can play well at both ends of the ice, can replicate or near-replicate Kessel’s 5-on-5 point production, can skate/has speed to his game, and comes in with an annual cap hit less than or equal to $6M.

With the Penguins logjam at right wing, even with the potential departure of Kessel, a left winger is probably the target, and in the case of the Zucker example, ideally has the ability to play on either wing given the fluidity of wingers changing lines in Pittsburgh.

We have to also consider teams that have a need on the RW and a surplus on the left and can take on salary and preferably aren’t in the Penguins division.

That’s a small subset of players and teams.

In other words, Tampa won’t be able to shed Ondrej Palat’s, JT Miller’s, or Alex Killorn’s contracts to take on Kessel’s (while still trying to make a run at Erik Karlsson and re-signing Brayden Point) nor will the Penguins be willing to send Phil to Carolina for someone like Nino Niederreiter, despite all four meeting the above criteria in some fashion.

With those parameters in mind, let’s take a look at some potential candidates that GMJR could target that meet varying degrees of the objectives, in some particular order to wrap up #PhilKesselWeek.

For the purposes of quick evaluation of these trades, the use of Sean Tierney’s Trade Machine will be employed, understanding that other players, prospects, or draft picks could/will be used as incentive to balance out the trade docket. 

For the purpose of this discussion, we will only look at the 1-for-1 aspect of any theoretical package involving Kessel leaving and a player backfilling his roster spot.

Brandon Saad – CHI – LW – 26 – AAV: $6M – Expires: 2020-21

Brandon Saad checks all of the boxes for the Penguins.  He can skate like the wind, he’s a dynamo at 5v5, defends well and is a good penalty killer, is on the right side of 30 and saves the Penguins $800k against the cap.  He’s also under contract for two more seasons.

It’s a great selling point, too, that he’s a good ol Pittsburgh boy that would surely play well with the locals and ease the grieving process from Phil’s departure.

A deal with Chicago could make sense, too.

For the Hawks, they really lack a true #2 RW behind Patrick Kane and, with the recent addition of Dominik Kubalik, have themselves a logjam on the left side.  Moving Saad and committing to DeBrincat and Kubalik on the left with Kane and Kessel on the right could be an intriguing proposition for a team that’s working with just under $20M in cap space and looking to maximize the final 4 years of the Kane/Toews contracts and window.  Perhaps adding someone like Panarin or Skinner in free agency to play on the left would do that, too, should they not be sold on Kubalik.

As far as Saad goes, Corsica’s model had him ranked as the #43 LW in the league last season, putting him smack-dab in the middle of a second line LW, coming off a season where he registered 23G-24A-47P in 80 games in his second season back with the team that drafted him.

With the exception of 2017-18 where he netted just 35 points and shot at 7.6% in all situations and 7.78% at 5v5 (compared to his career averages of 11.1% and 10.18% respectively), Saad has been pretty consistent over his entire career.

Since 2013-14, he’s posted between 47-53 points each year (aside from 17-18) and netted 23+ goals in 4 of the 6 previous seasons, with his career high of 31 coming in his first season with the Blue Jackets (2015-16), while also having never missed more than 4 games in a season and having only missed 2 total over the last 3 seasons.  He’s responsible, too, having never racked up more than 20 PIMs in a single season.

At 5v5, he’s posted under 30 points just twice (28 in 2017-18 and 22 in 46 games during the 2013 lockout-shortened season), including 38, 38, and 43 in three straight seasons from 2014-15 to 2015-16.

In terms of outright production at 5v5, Saad and Kessel aren’t all that different:

5v5 Kessel Saad
Goals – Last 3 Seasons 47 48
Goals Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 0.83 0.87
Total Assists – Last 3 Seasons 74 55
Totals Assists Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 1.31 1.00
Total Points – Last 3 Seasons 121 103
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 2.15 1.87
Goals Per 60 minutes – Career 0.99 0.91
Total Assists Per 60 minutes – Career 1.13 1.06
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Career 2.13 1.97

What’s interesting to note is that, had Saad not shot at 7.78% in 2017-18 and instead shot closer to his 10% career average, you’re looking at ~18 goals at 5v5 on his career high 180 5v5 shots.

And from a WAR standpoint, it’s actually a pretty fair value.  Kessel adds 0.40, while Saad adds 0.50.

What would make this an enticing get for the Penguins, though, is Saad’s defensive ability, something that Phil Kessel, for all of his positives, simply doesn’t possess.  Via HockeyViz.com, we can see Saad’s isolated impact since 2017 relative to the league.

What this boils down to is simple: when Saad is on the ice, his team is generally a +11% Threat in the offensive zone, generating shots from below the hash marks at a higher clip relative to the league average.  Defensively, Saad’s opposition is not doing that same thing, being neutralized to the tune of -4% when he is on the ice (the more red, the better in the offensive zone//the more blue, the better in the defensive zone).  On the PK, teams are not generating as much either against him relative to the rest of the league, which would be a welcome addition 19th PK unit last season.

The hangup, of course, will be the Blackhawks failing to make the playoffs for the second straight season, this time by 6 points.  They’re a younger team that added two first round prospects to their pool last summer and own the #3 overall pick this summer.  They’re not an outright Cup contender, but they’re also probably a lot closer than the Wild.

And if we’re to believe one of the setbacks in his approval to go to Minnesota was that Kessel doesn’t know who would get him the puck, he wouldn’t have to worry about that in Chicago, where he would play with either Toews or Dylan Strome as his centers, the latter of whom had 34 assists in 58 games with the Hawks last season at age 22.

Jonathan Huberdeau – FLA – LW – 25 – AAV: $5.9M – Expires: 2022-23

The next two would take some finesse to get done and, in the case of Huberdeau, would likely take more than just Kessel to do it given his age and contract status (signed through the next 4 seasons), even in spite of the fact that GMJR has some trade history with the Panthers.

All that without mentioning that Huberdeau is coming off a career best 30 goal and 92 point season where his WAR value sits at a cool 2.40.

From a 5v5 perspective, Huberdeau has been pretty consistent as well, similar to Saad.  Since 2014-15, he’s never posted fewer than 40 5v5 points, save for an injury-shorted season in 2016-17 which limited him to just 31 games.

That said, he too would be someone capable of replicating Kessel’s 5v5 production as he tracks up with age, as he’s shown per hour of 5v5 play over the past 3 seasons:

5v5 Kessel Huberdeau
Goals – Last 3 Seasons 47 36
Goals Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 0.83 0.77
Total Assists – Last 3 Seasons 74 66
Totals Assists Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 1.31 1.42
Total Points – Last 3 Seasons 121 102
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 2.15 2.20
Goals Per 60 minutes – Career 0.99 0.73
Total Assists Per 60 minutes – Career 1.13 1.32
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Career 2.13 2.05

Unlike Saad, Huberdeau doesn’t kill penalties, but he does bring a defensive element to his game as the #8 ranked LW via Corsica.

When he’s on the ice, teams haven’t really gotten much from the low or high slot areas of the ice against the Panthers (-3% overall), while Huberdeau and Co. live in the entire slot area in the offensive zone.  He’s also deadly on the PP, having netted 11 PPG and 34 powerplay points last season.

There is, however, some upside to acquiring Phil Kessel for the Panthers.

Much like the Blackhawks, the Cats have two good centers in Aleksander Barkov and Vince Trocheck that can and will get Kessel the puck.  They just hired one of the best coaches on Earth and are far and away the closest to competing for a Cup of any team on this list, despite missing the playoffs by 12 points this past year.

It would also give them a substantial 1-2 punch down the right wing in Evgenii Dadonov and Phil Kessel, the latter of whom would be a significant upgrade over current 2RW Denis Malgin.

Now, on the surface, it doesn’t look like the Panthers have an issue at LW, but there has been substantial speculation that they could use some of the $21M they currently have in cap space (and an owner willing to spend the money) to try to lure Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to South Florida.  Adding an elite offensive weapon like Panarin and a 2 time Vezina winner would put them right in the thick of the Cup conversation.

If that’s the case, one of Huberdeau or Mike Hoffman (more on him in a minute) will have to go as well as one of Luongo or Reimer to open up the roster spaces.

Considering Hoffman has just one year remaining on his current deal, there’s a case that can be made for keeping Hoffman and letting him walk in Free Agency next summer and backfill with youth.

Mike Hoffman – FLA – LW/RW – 29 – AAV: $5.1875M – Expires: 2019-20

Much like Huberdeau, Hoffman is coming off his best season of his career having scored 36 goals and 70 points in 82 games, making him the #35 LW in Corsica’s rankings.  Hoffman comes with a lower cap hit, but his contract expires at the end of next season.  For the Penguins, that would be a tough pill to swallow and only made tougher with Hoffman’s age and baggage.

Still, Hoffman is a pure goal scorer, having found the back of the net 25+ times in 4 of the last 5 seasons and 28+ 5v5 points in each of the last 5 years and could be a lethal addition to Malkin’s left flank.

5v5 Kessel Hoffman
Goals – Last 3 Seasons 47 39
Goals Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 0.83 0.72
Total Assists – Last 3 Seasons 74 49
Totals Assists Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 1.31 0.90
Total Points – Last 3 Seasons 121 88
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 2.15 1.62
Goals Per 60 minutes – Career 0.99 0.86
Total Assists Per 60 minutes – Career 1.13 0.96
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Career 2.13 1.82

While Hoffman does add slightly more in the WAR category than Kessel and is 2 years younger than Phil, his career and 3 year production just isn’t really at a level that would make sense for the Penguins to get into bed with him without some additional piece(s) coming back or the Cats taking someone like Jack Johnson.  Hard to imagine the latter if they are putting together a package for Panarin/Bobrovsky, though.

There’s also a part of Hoffman that’s cut from the same cloth as Phil.  That is, he’s not particularly good defensively either, though this could partially be explained by having to play in Ottawa prior to this past year.

Either way, the value of potentially just one year of Hoffman doesn’t give one the warm and fuzzies.

Alex Galchenyuk – ARI – LW/C – 25 – AAV: $4.9M – Expires: 2019-20

The “Kessel-to-Arizona” thing will never go away, despite all logic, until Phil suits up for the Desert Dogs or one of Tocchet/Kessel leaves the league.  That much is known.

It’s also primarily the only reason Galchenyuk (or any Coyote) has made this list.

In this scenario, the Coyotes would add 1.40 standings points by turning Galchenyuk, a UFA after next season and the #41 ranked LW by Corsica, into Phil Kessel.

Galchenyuk, 25, was the 3rd overall pick by Montreal in 2012.  Given his age, breaking into the league the season he was drafted, two 50+ point seasons and a 30 goal season under his belt, he’s still viewed as having untapped potential.  His usage in Montreal and injury history (he’s played 80 or more games just 3 out of 7 seasons, including the lockout-shortened 2013 year), have left a lot to be desired.

He’s “marginally” better than Phil defensively (+9% versus +13%) though still not particularly good, isn’t as good offensively (-3% versus +5%), but is slightly better on the powerplay (+15% versus +12%).  He’s also scored 60 powerplay points across the last 3 seasons, despite having played just 215 of a possible 246 games and seeing less PP ice time.

Galchenyuk’s usage hasn’t been the greatest in his career and his production shows that as well.

5v5 Kessel Galchenyuk
Goals – Last 3 Seasons 47 24
Goals Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 0.83 0.54
Total Assists – Last 3 Seasons 74 41
Totals Assists Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 1.31 0.92
Total Points – Last 3 Seasons 121 65
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Last 3 Seasons 2.15 1.45
Goals Per 60 minutes – Career 0.99 0.74
Total Assists Per 60 minutes – Career 1.13 0.99
Total Points Per 60 minutes – Career 2.13 1.73

It’s tough to imagine the Yotes, who are focusing on youth and puck possession, would be filling a need with Kessel, but he’d be an immediate upgrade over most of their current crop of wingers.  This is especially true when you consider they scored the fewest amount of goals at 5v5 last season (131) and 3rd fewest at all strengths (209).

That said, Galchenyuk (or any other Yote beyond Clayton Keller) wouldn’t cut it in terms of making the Penguins better and the Coyotes probably don’t have the horses down the middle or the potential for Cup contention to please Kessel beyond the “he and Tocchet love each other” narrative.


At the end of the day, any Phil Kessel trade has to make sense for both clubs involved and for Phil Kessel.  There’s no telling what’s going on in his brain, but one can imagine a world where the Blackhawks and Panthers make a lot of sense as potential trade partners for both the Penguins and for Kessel.

And if those are the two teams that have an interest in doing business with Jim Rutherford, Brandon Saad and Jonathan Huberdeau are the two guys that should be focal points of any discussion because they are capable of stepping right in, bringing value, and wouldn’t be a downgrade for the Penguins lineup.

Anything else would be a loss for GMJR and for us as a whole.

Who would you like to see the Penguins target?  Sound off in the comments below.

Note: All data via NaturalStatTrick.com, vizzes from HockeyViz.com, and salary information from CapFriendly.com.

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