The Top 5 Trade Destinations for Phil Kessel

There’s a lot of good reasons to keep Phil Kessel in Toronto – perhaps just as many as there are to trade him. Kessel is a 27-year old elite goal scorer; the kind of high end talent that doesn’t become available very often. Normally, it’d be silly to think of trading away such a player, but the Maple Leafs (if you haven’t heard) are about to embark on what will likely be a long and painful rebuild. 

Kessel is not old, but he is in his prime. By the time Toronto comes out on the other side, he may not be the player he once was. On top of that, Kessel is the Leafs’ most valuable trade chip, and moving him now might accelerate the rebuild by years. That’s not an exaggeration.

The issue is, while pretty much any team would gladly employ Kessel, there aren’t many that can afford him. He’s got an $8M cap hit until 2022, which I’d argue is more than fair price, there aren’t many teams that A) have that kind of cap space and B) are looking to improve dramatically in the short term. Kessel is not a fit for a rebuilding team, but would be immensely valuable to a club that’s looking to take the next step or simply solidify themselves as a perennial Stanley Cup Contender. 

So where should he end up? Here’s the five teams I’d be calling if I were looking to deal Phil Kessel…

The Nashville Predators

Stuck in a very tough Central Division along with St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota and Winnipeg, the Nashville Predators need to find a way to keep pace. They’re likely to continue running into the Blackhawks or Blues in the opening round of the playoffs for the foreseeable future, and a quick injection of high-end talent might be what’s needed to get them past their divisional rivals.

With a large number of pending free agents, Nashville has only has six forwards under contract next season and nearly $30M in cap space. They’ll shore up their roster quite a bit with many of their own restricted free agents, but they’ll have more than enough to comfortably add a player of Kessel’s value. 

The good news for Toronto, if Nashville were to seriously pursue Kessel, is that the Predators have a number of excellent young roster players and prospects. The Leafs already own their 2015 first round pick (acquired in the Cody Franson/Mike Santorelli trade), but if they needed to, the Predators still have many other draft picks to move as well.

Ryan Ellis would be a good get, but his skillset might be a little redundant in Toronto with Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner already in the mix. It would be a tough sell to get Nashville to part ways with 2014 first rounder and top prospect Kevin Fiala, but if he’s the main piece coming back to the Leafs, I suppose there’s a slight possibility it could happen.

Potential Trade Pieces: D Ryan Ellis, C Calle Jarnkrok, C Colton Sissons, LW Kevin Fiala, LW Jimmy Vesey, G Magnus Hellberg, G Juuse Saros, 2015 2nd Round Pick, 2016 1st Round Pick

Potential Salary Dumps: C Paul Gaustad (1 year, $3.25M)

The New York Islanders

My personal favourite Kessel destination. The Islanders are in a pretty good division, but let’s not pretend that the Metropolitan banner isn’t up for grabs every single year. This is a young and very talented team, and lining up a player like Kessel alongside John Tavares would be ridiculous. That, or leave Kyle Okposo on the top line and spread out the scoring with Kessel sheltered on the second line – either way, the Islanders would be super dangerous. 

New York has about $14M in cap space, and while some of that will be eaten up by extensions for Okposo, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, they could easily afford to bring in Kessel if one or two of their roster players are coming back the other way. It might be a tight fit in 2015-16, but with a number of pending unrestricted free agents coming up next season, it’s certainly doable.

The Islanders also have one of the best groups of young players and prospects in the league, and can certainly afford to put together a nice package for Kessel and still not come close to emptying the cupboards. Parting with Michael Dal Colle or Griffin Reinhart might be a little too rich for the Islanders’ taste, but I’d press hard for a package that revolves around 21-year old Ryan Strome.

Potential Trade Pieces: C Ryan Strome, C Anders Lee, LW Michael Dal Colle, RW Sebastian Collberg, RW Josh Ho-Sang, D Griffin Reinhart, D Ryan Pulock, G Ilya Sorokin, 2016 1st Round Pick

Potential Salary Dumps: None. Their cap situation is beautiful.

The Florida Panthers

We already know that the Florida Panthers had shown some interest in acquiring Kessel not too long ago, but it might make a little more sense for them to put in a bid this offseason than it did back at the trade deadline. 

Like all of the teams on this list, Florida has enough cap space (about $16M to be exact) to bring in Kessel’s contract. The Atlantic division is wide open most years, so Florida could certainly use Kessel’s help in climbing the standings. That being said, the Leafs are also in the Atlantic – do they really want to trade him to a division rival? I don’t think it’s a big deal, but it is something to be aware of.

Players like Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad are almost certainly untouchable, but the Panthers do have a number of other nice, young pieces that could come the other way. A lot of the Panthers’ best prospects have already graduated (see the first line of this paragraph), but a package of picks, a prospect like Mike Matheson or Ian McCoshen, and a decent roster player could do the trick. Florida’s certainly a good fit for Kessel, but I’m not sure that the Panthers could offer the best package for him.

Potential Trade Pieces: LW Jonathan Huberdeau, C Vincent Trocheck, D Dmitry Kulikov, C Rocco Grimaldi, D Mike Matheson, D Ian McCoshen, C Jayce Hawryluk, 2015 1st Round Pick, 2016 1st Round Pick

Potential Salary Dump: Dave Bolland (Kidding!)

The New Jersey Devils

Sending Kessel to New Jersey hinges on one thing and one thing only – the Devils’ sixth overall pick in the upcoming draft. I have no idea why New Jersey would want to part with that pick, considering they have what can only be described as an atrocious prospect pool, but apparently it’s available for a scoring winger. The Devils seem hellbent on keeping themselves afloat and competing the Metropolitan division, and don’t seem at all interested in rebuilding.

The most popular Toronto-New Jersey rumour has revolved around James van Riemsdyk, considering he was born and raised in the Garden State and everyone loves a good “coming home” narrative. If the Devils wanted to land the more talented Leafs scoring winger though, they’d certainly need to part with that sixth overall pick at the very least. 

New Jersey has the cap space, with over $21M available and most of their core locked up. Money isn’t an issue. That being said, other than that high pick in the upcoming draft, the Devils don’t have all that much to offer in exchange for Kessel’s services.

Potential Trade Pieces: The sixth overall pick in 2015, D Eric Gelinas, D Damon Severson, LW Stefan Matteau, LW Reid Boucher, two 2015 2nd Round Picks, 2016 First Round Pick

Potential Salary Dumps: LW Ryan Clowe (3 years, $4.85M), LW Tuomo Ruutu (1 year, $3.8M)

The St. Louis Blues

This is a very similar situation to Nashville. The Central is a meat grinder, and the Blues’ first round playoff exit just a few weeks ago at the hands of the Wild demonstrated quite clearly just how tough it is for more than one team in the division to go far. With that said, the Blues can use all the help they can get.

They’re already a pretty strong offensive team, with David Backes, Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny all capable of putting up significant points. Adding Kessel to the mix would give the Blues one of the strongest and most well balanced forward groups around, able to overwhelm pretty much any defence in the league.

With about $11M in cap space and only a few open roster spots, the Blues might need to shuffle a little but should be able to afford bringing in Kessel. They also have a really, really nice group of prospects (especially up front), and could give up one or two significant pieces without really feeling it. St. Louis is a “win now” organization, so they may be more inclined to mortgage off some young assets for an impact player like Kessel (who happens to be younger than most of the Blues’ core). The Leafs would be happy with a package revolving around pretty much anyone listed below, but you’d certainly want to press St. Louis hard for one of Ivan Barbashev or Robby Fabbri.

Potential Trade Pieces: LW Dmitrij Jaskin, C Ivan Barbashev, C Robby Fabbri, LW Ty Rattie, G Jordan Binnington, D Jordan Schmaltz, 2016 1st Round Draft Pick

Potential Salary Dumps: C Steve Ott (1 year, $2.6M)

  • CMpuck

    Have to make the money work for a Kessel destination, Leafs need to take a player they can flip for more quality prospects and/or picks in the deal rather than taking salary dumps back. Something like the Vanek for a 1st + Moulson deal.

    However if we’re settling for busted prospects like Griffin Reinhart, we might as well just keep Kessel and trade him Calgary-Ignila style when he’s long in the tooth.

    You want a Kulikov or Fiala, just trade Bozak and Kadri for them. Kessel isn’t a recyclable like they are.

  • Poluza

    wow the blues prospect pool is too stacked. is want him to go to the islanders so he can reunite with grabo and kuley though. purely sentimental reason but that kessel/Tavares line would be absolutely lethal. JVR for nj’s pick makes the most sense and kessel to Florida/Nashville makes the most sense but I feel like Carolina could be in the mix too

  • Poluza

    I’m sorry but how is Columbus not on this list…. They have the cap space and an outstanding prospect pool.

    Also screw New Jersey… The only thing I’d want from that team is their draft picks.

  • maxdistortion

    any of these scenarios would be a dream come true. Especially acquiring Jersey’s first round pick, but Lou Lamourello is smarter than that I would think. they already gave up Bo Horvat for Corey Shnieder in 2012.

  • We all need to remember that for those listing Columbus is that yes they have cap room but they aren’t a spend to the cap team. They have an internal budget. Same with St. Louis and Nashville. Plus Nashville has to manage their cap now because Seth Jones is going to need a new contract after next year and I don’t think it will be a cheap bridge type deal either. I think some teams are already eliminated in the Kessel sweepstakes as I think one essential for any Kessel deal in Mark Hunter and Shanahan’s eyes is to get back a first round pick in this years draft. I could also see San Jose and maybe Arizona showing interest as Arizona’s owner said they are doing a retool not a rebuild and they need to spend significant money to get to the cap floor as well.

  • We all need to remember that for those listing Columbus is that yes they have cap room but they aren’t a spend to the cap team. They have an internal budget. Same with St. Louis and Nashville. Plus Nashville has to manage their cap now because Seth Jones is going to need a new contract after next year and I don’t think it will be a cheap bridge type deal either. I think some teams are already eliminated in the Kessel sweepstakes as I think one essential for any Kessel deal in Mark Hunter and Shanahan’s eyes is to get back a first round pick in this years draft. I could also see San Jose and maybe Arizona showing interest as Arizona’s owner said they are doing a retool not a rebuild and they need to spend significant money to get to the cap floor as well.

  • STAN

    Offer Kessel to Arizona for this year’s first pick (third overall). Straight up. I think they bite and hte Leafs end up with Hanafin AND Strome.

    Nice way to start the rebuild.

  • TGT23

    Joshua Ho-Sang please. Oh please… Watched Ho-Sang in junior this season live a couple times. Always finding the puck, always in a good scoring position…

    I think Jeffler pointed out on twitter a line of Nylander, Kadri, and Ho-Sang would be so sick.

    Or split them up, draft Marner, you have Kadri and Nylander down the middle, one of Ho-Sang and Marner on their wings. JVR on one of the lines (JVR-Kadri-Marner?). Bailey as a 3rd liner or Holland. Kozun and Brown can fight for the 2nd and 3rd line spots… Be so fast and quick, so much offensive talent.

    Or, if you so choose draft Strome and move Nylander or Kadri to wing.

    So many possibilities.

  • TGT23

    Ironically one team that really could use Kessel is the Bruins , too bad there is a history there….

    I know the Bruins have cap trouble but it just might be time for them to trade Z. Chara and / or Lucic.

    Or a Tyler Seguin for Kessel trade would be great fun as well!

    just kidding of course!

  • Jeremy Ian

    My gut predicts Florida or the Islanders. St Louis and Nashville could really use him, for sure. But they will paralyzed by disappointment, so unable to do anything audacious (though it’s what they should probably do). But Florida and the Islanders are going to feel on an upswing and looking for a big boost for a much more wide open East.

  • Aendayana777

    How about Kessel to Washington?

    They are searching for a top line right winger and kessel would be a huge boost in scoring for them. They currently deploy Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer, and Tom Wilson as their 1st through 4th RW respectively. Kessel would be a huge upgrade.

    Washington has some high potential young players a prospects that Toronto could target. Madison Bowey is a big physical right hand defenceman would some offensive skills who could be looks like he could be a top four defender. Andre Burakovsky also is a big scoring winger who I would target. I quick glance at his advanced stats show he was good possession player. I doubt they would part with Kuznetzov and their most recent 1st rounder Jakub Vrana.

    My Trade proposal would be:

    Kessel + Prospect if needed (Maybe Gautheir,Verheage,or Matt Finn) + (maybe retain 2million salary) for Andre Burkavosky + Madison Bowey + 2015/2016 1st rounder (lottery protected most likely).

    With Mark Hunter running the draft those late first rounders have just become much more valuable for Toronto.

    Washington Has over 20 million in cap space next year and have young RFAs and their top priority to sign like Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansen. Their top 4 also looks to be set and Mike Green is probably leaving. Washing could play Keseel on the top line or with Kuznetsov and Johanson and have two very dynamic scoring lines similar to what Chicago probably with more offensive ability but less defensive ability.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Do we honestly think though that Kessel with his limited no trade clause would want to go to St. Louis to play under Ken Hitchcock this season. If he thought Carlysle was stubborn and old school then Kessel hasn’t seen nothing yet. If Phil doesn’t want to back check and play responsible 2-way hockey then Hitch will be bringing out the cattle prod to get him to do it. He did get Rick Nash to be a more complete player but it wasn’t fun for Nash.

  • I keep hearing comments that we should retain salary for Kessel to make a deal work. The last two high profile scoring wingers traded (not deadline deals). The last two, Bobby Ryan and Rick Nash are the closest comparisons and even with his speculated issues, Phil Kessel is a superior talent who has put up more cumulative points.

    It is rare that a 27 year old with his talent, locked into a reasonable contract becomes available. I know readers will scream that his contract is not “reasonable” however, even with his off year, he would still command 8 to $10 million per year on the free agent open market.

    I am confident there will be many teams bidding for him even with his off year. I am certain there will be teams willing to assume his contract.

    Retaining salary on ANY contract with more than 3 years remaining is a huge mistake and doubt the Leafs are prepared to do it. In 3 years, we will need our own cap space to sign some of our good young players to long terms, plus have the ability to seek out free agents.

  • Gary Empey

    I’ve always thought Kessel to Vancouver with a package coming back that could include a 1st, Kassian, Jared McCann and Hunter Shinkaruk or Niklas Jensen.

  • Gary Empey

    All NHL players realize they may be traded at any point in their career.

    If I am a new coach looking at the roster I have to work with, I would not be in a hurry to trade my best point getter. I would be looking at his video tapes and seeing where his game could be reasonably improved.

    What I like about this article is it doesn’t simply say, for the rebuild, lets get rid of a bunch of players. It has possible solutions, even though I may not agree with most of them.

    I would not be shopping any players at all.

    Other teams are aware Leafs are rebuilding. Let them come to us. That puts us in the drivers seat. What those teams would like to do is get Kessel or Phaneuf or Rielly and have Toronto take back some salary and send us a couple of stiffs that disappear after a year.

    I have often seen former leafs playing well for other teams and can not even remember who we got for those players. I have to google it.

    This has happened many times in the past.

    I would wait for an offer that would be too hard to refuse.

    PS. Kessel is such a good skater, scorer and excellent passer, I wonder how he would play as a center. It would keep him off the boards and give him more space to play his game.

    Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.

    Pudd’nhead Wilson

  • Gary Empey

    Good hockey teams need good players. Kessel is one of the best, and is dedicated to this city. We haven’t even seen what kind of player he can be under a solid coaching staff.

    This team needs to focus on resolving problem spots on it’s roster. Not giving away it’s most successful piece.

    “Build from the net outwards” is clearly something this hockey team did not do, so that’s where to start making change. Unless offered something ridiculous for a guy like Phil, he should stay.

  • Gary Empey

    I cannot see anybody giving you any quality back for Phil.

    Your media has ruined his reputation and believe it or not that ripples through the league. His contract length and term is massive and all the negative attention he received last year makes Phil a negitive asset right now.

    Hard to believe TO’s fans and media has single handedly run one of the most proficient goal scorer in the last five years out of town. And they are going to be lucky to get a B prospect In return.

  • Aendayana777

    While I’m not a big Kessel fan I think I would rather keep him and trade Phaneuf instead. Teams like the Oilers have cap space and the need for high-end defence man and with Babcock you’d think there is a chance for Phil to become a more complete player. Not sure if the Leafs could get a good enough package right now anyway, the cap is too low maybe in a year more teams could create a better trade market for a hopefully better player. Sorry for the rant