Panthers GM responds to Kessel trade rumours

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel. (Chris Young/CP)

For anyone thinking the Toronto Maple Leafs are about to pull the trigger on a Phil Kessel-to-Florida Panthers trade, hit the brakes.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon addressed the recent rumours Tuesday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan prior to the Leafs-Panthers game.

“I think we’re going to stay the course,” Tallon replied when asked directly about his team’s interest in Kessel. “We have a good blueprint, we know what we’re doing, we have a brilliant future ahead of us, we’re still in the [playoff] hunt and we’re going to just keep moving forward in the direction we planned three or four years ago.”

Listen: Panthers GM Dale Tallon addresses the Phil Kessel trade rumours

Tallon, whose Panthers sit four points out of a playoff spot, described Kessel as “a hell of a player” but added the Panthers “have a depth chart and a blueprint and we’re going to stick with it.”

The Panthers have a number of pending unrestricted free agents – forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and defenceman Shane O'Brien – and Tallon did say those players “might be available [for teams] to add at deadline.”

Earlier Tuesday, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos told Prime Time Sports that the Panthers have zero interest in adding Kessel at this time because they're not willing to part ways with their young players.

The Maple Leafs are in the midst of a rebuild and Kessel's name keeps popping up in trade rumours.

Kessel has 21 goals and 26 assists in 57 games heading into Tuesday's game against the Panthers. The 27-year-old has seven years remaining on his contract, which comes with an annual $8-million salary cap hit.