Five possible trade destinations for veteran scorer Phil Kessel

Watch as Phil Kessel scores three times for his seventh career hat trick.

It’s been a wild week in Phil Kessel’s world.

On Tuesday, the veteran winger logged a single 30-second shift against the Detroit Red Wings to tack another game onto his ironman streak of 956 straight appearances — then he hopped on a charter flight back to his family in Phoenix to be home for the birth of his first child. On Thursday, the former Maple Leaf will return to the Arizona Coyotes’ lineup, just in time to take the ice at Scotiabank Arena for the first time in two years.

What Kessel’s future holds beyond that blue-and-white return is more unsure, though. Playing out the final season of an eight-year deal signed with Toronto back in 2013, the two-time Stanley Cup champion is staring down a change of address for the fourth time in his career, a move from the desert ahead of the 2022 trade deadline looking likely.

At this point, there should be no mysteries about what Phil the Thrill brings to an NHL club. Through his time in Boston and Toronto in his younger days, Kessel proved a capable 30-goal scorer who could flirt with the 40-goal mark if the circumstances lined up right. For much of his career, that’s remained true — his game might not be the most well-rounded or multifaceted, but he’s proven adept at filling nets.

In Pittsburgh, though, Kessel proved the true key to his value. After starring yet stumbling in his previous spots, he found a new level when released from the pressure of being a team’s No. 1 option. Granted the freedom of being lower on the depth chart, able to use his skill-set around elite offensive minds, Kessel thrived, leading Pittsburgh in post-season scoring as it found the Stanley Cup summit in 2016 and putting up a career-best 92-point season fresh off the back-to-back ’16-17 titles.

More recently, in Arizona, it’s unsurprisingly been a rougher go. Now 34, Kessel’s posted 40 goals through two and a half seasons in the desert, sitting with just six goals and 34 points through 56 games this season. Looking at the calibre of talent around him, though — he’s set to line up alongside Alex Galchenyuk and Matias Maccelli his next time out — it’s fair to assume he has more to give than his numbers suggest.

Another season of 30-40 goals seems something of a longshot for Kessel at this point in his career. But staring down the homestretch of this season, and another shot at post-season glory, there’s little question No. 81 could be of use to a team with enough talent to use the full breadth of his offensive skill-set.


This is the all-important question, particularly if we’re thinking that the best bet for Kessel would be a team already well-stocked with talent (and thus, very much not well-stocked with cap space).

The Coyotes winger has a $6.8-million cap hit this season, with the Maple Leafs covering $1.2 million of his actual $8-million hit. Arizona’s brass has to be well aware that there likely aren’t any teams willing to bring Kessel on at that price point, and that indeed seems to be the case. In a recent piece by The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, in which he ran hypothetical trade proposals by anonymous NHL executives, one particular exec seemingly revealed the Coyotes’ asking price, telling Pronman that Arizona has been offering Kessel to teams for a third-round pick, with the option of them retaining 50 per cent of his salary.

That’s a crucial point. At $3.4 million, with only a third-round pick given up, Kessel becomes a much more attractive deadline add for the league’s top-shelf clubs. There’s still a chance a player may need to go the other way to make the money work, and per CapFriendly, Kessel does have a modified no-trade clause allowing him to submit an eight-team trade list. But if the Coyotes are still offering the deal suggested above, let’s take a look at who might be interested:


How about going back to where it all began?

Drafted fifth overall by the Bruins back in 2006, Kessel had only three seasons in Boston before the blockbuster trade that sent him out of town. Fast forward to 2022, and both sides seem primed for a reunion.

Though the current iteration of the B’s boasts elite talent at the top of the lineup, the club has gotten little in the way of consistent scoring from anyone not named Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand or Taylor Hall. Although they have something going with Pastrnak and Hall teaming up on the club’s second line, there’s more to be desired on the right side elsewhere in the lineup — not to mention top-line winger Jake DeBrusk is still seeking a trade out of Boston.

Overall, Boston sits 17th in the league in goals per game, despite ranking fifth in shots per game. Put simply, the need some finishing ability. Enter Phil.

Fitting in Kessel’s reduced cap hit shouldn’t be an issue, and there seems a natural fit for No. 81 alongside Bergeron and Marchand up top, a duo with enough playmaking talent to bring out Kessel’s very best. That also allows the club to move DeBrusk down to the third line (should he remain with the team for the rest of this season) to bolster the bottom six.

Clinging to a wild-card spot with the window closing for their respected veterans, it seems prime time for the Bruins to add another weapon and see if they can bring some magic back down the stretch. For Kessel, another shot at the post-season in his first NHL home, with a new contract in need of signing in the off-season, seems like motivation enough to rediscover some magic of his own.


The Rangers have no shortage of offensive talent, particularly with Chris Kreider turning in the year of his career while Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox continue to do their thing. Still, looking at the group overall, there’s more to be desired, with the Rangers sitting 19th in the league in goals per game, and 30th in shots per game.

They’re all set on the left side, with Kreider and Panarin manning the top-six slots. It’s on the right where they could use an addition, particularly with Kaapo Kakko injured, his absence prompting Dryden Hunt to line up alongside Panarin and Ryan Strome.

New York has been climbing for the past few years, slowly adding pieces, steadily growing the ones it’s had. Now, the Rangers are ready to transition from a climber to a genuine contender — the key to getting there is more talent, more depth, more options. In Kessel, the Rangers could add a proven scorer who could make noise alongside Panarin, bringing balance to the top six and depth once Kakko returns.

The Rangers have a prime opportunity to make a real go of the playoffs for the first time in half a decade, particularly given the career efforts Kreider and Igor Shesterkin are putting forth. Armed with cap space, there’s a chance they aim higher than Kessel. However, if they miss on a bigger target, or opt to add without losing a significant part of their future, No. 81 could be a worthy bet.


The Panthers find themselves in an envious position approaching the deadline: in the midst of a dominant season, already well-stocked and looking to beef up even more before what could very likely be a deep playoff run.

Looking around at the absurdly deep rosters of the other bona fide contenders, it’s no mystery why Florida might want to add even more offensive firepower to the unit already scoring the most goals per game this season. The question will be whether they can find the balance between adding something to help them now without sacrificing a bit of their future.

Florida’s been linked to some of the bigger names on the market, with intriguing talents Claude Giroux and J.T. Miller potentially available for the right price. If GM Bill Zito wants to add without losing the young promise of an Owen Tippett or an Anton Lundell, though, stepping back and adding a veteran in Kessel may be the wiser choice.

Where exactly Kessel would slot into the Panthers’ lineup is a more complicated issue, as is likely the case with any club as deep as the Panthers bringing in another scorer. But more talent simply means more depth and more competition for spots in the lineup, and there’s no question Kessel could do some damage alongside top-tier offensive thinkers Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Huberdeau.


The Avalanche find themselves in a similar position as Florida. Tops in their division, already one of the deepest lineups in the league and primed for a deep run.

And yet, there’s reason to think bigger, still. The Avs seem to have all they need to end the Tampa Bay Lightning’s reign, but that post-season success hasn’t quite materialized for GM Joe Sakic’s side as of late. After a pair of second-round exits, the pressure is slowly ratcheting up. That being the case, stockpiling more scorers isn’t a bad bet.

Like their fellow contenders, Colorado’s name has been linked to the big boys of the trade market, the Girouxs, the Millers et al. Again, though, making a move to fit in a player of that calibre will require significant reshaping, both to fit in a hefty salary and to come up with the package of assets required to bring said players in.

For a club such as Colorado, which isn’t significantly lacking up front, it’s tough to see the point in such a wild swing — adding a Giroux or a Miller would be great, sure, but it isn’t a necessity. They seem built to win either way, needing only additions around the edges that can accentuate their strengths.

Kessel seems to fit that bill — a reliable scorer who could no doubt find his top form alongside the plethora of elite offensive minds in Colorado. And, most importantly, one who wouldn’t cost a promising prospect or a roster player moved to fit in a massive cap hit.

Plus, why pass up the opportunity for a Nazem Kadri-Kessel reunion?


As in the case of the Bruins, there’s an element of going back to roots here. Before Boston, Toronto, the Cup runs and the desert, Kessel spent one year lighting it up for the University of Minnesota before turning pro. A decade and a half later, he seems a good fit for the state’s hockey hopes once again.

After years as an also-ran, the Wild have been making waves of late, particularly since Kirill Kaprizov arrived and infused some long-needed dynamic skill to their offensive mix. Now, they find themselves in an interesting position — a strong enough club to make it to the post-season, to make things interesting, but seemingly not yet ready to contend with the big dogs.

Where does that leave GM Bill Guerin heading toward the trade deadline?

Adding pieces seems a good bet if the organization wants to make it past the first round for the first time in seven years, but the Wild are in no position to sacrifice quality young talent in an attempt to make 2022 their year — especially given the quality of prospects they have in the stables at the moment. An addition like Kessel could make sense, then, giving Minnesota a veteran scorer who can do damage without breaking the bank.

One aspect worth noting: there’s no doubt Guerin’s well aware of just how effective Kessel can be in the right situation, having won two Cups with him while serving as Pittsburgh’s assistant GM. In particular, he would’ve seen how Kessel reinvigorated the Penguins’ power play during his black-and-gold tenure, putting his playmaking chops on display — a bit of help the Wild and their 20th-ranked man-advantage unit could certainly use.

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