FORT LAUDERDALE - We know a few things when it comes to the prospects of Phil Kessel being traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs. First, the Leafs have already told their core players there are going to be changes. Second, the Leafs are actively speaking with teams about the possibility. Third, there appears to be a lot of interest in acquiring him. Fourth, the chances of him reporting to training camp as a member of the Maple Leafs are growing slimmer by the day.
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan did not come out and say Kessel would be dealt, but spoke volumes when he said, “Anything is possible.” To these eyes anyway, it just does not look as though Kessel has any long-term future in Toronto. So does Shanahan see any scenario where Kessel actually remains a Maple Leaf?
“That’s a good question,” Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t rule anything out and I don’t think anyone has said any particular player on our team is done. I think the fact we’ve come out and said there are going to be some changes…obviously when you say that and you look at the other 29 teams, they look at your best player and they look at your most productive player. So he has probably garnered the most interest and he’s the player who has gotten the most phone calls.”
There is significant interest from other teams and there are plenty of scenarios floating around. But Kessel has already submitted a list of eight teams where he would accept a trade and his contract stipulates that he can change and resubmit that list July 1. His current list is believed to be made up of the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild. There’s not a ton of cap room on any of those teams and the only one of them so far that appears to have shown any interest is the Penguins.
The Detroit Red Wings are making enquiries, but a better fit might be a team needing to add salary to get to the cap floor, a team such as the Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers or Arizona Coyotes. The Leafs also have a second-round pick, 24th overall, so there are a lot of moving parts. But Shanahan said there is no self-imposed deadline to make a deal. Complicating matters is the fact that Kessel struggled in 2014-15.
“He had a down year last year,” Shanahan said. “He knows it. We think he’ll bounce back. Other teams think he’ll bounce back or we wouldn’t be getting phone calls.”
Kessel is one of a number of possible trades that could take place in conjunction with the first round of the draft Friday. Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in play, with the Buffalo Sabres being a possible destination. New York Rangers backup goalie Cam Talbot will likely be on the move, as likely will Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings and one of the goalies in Ottawa and Vancouver. Patrick Sharp is a topic of a lot of conversation, but teams know they have the Blackhawks over a barrel because they have to dump his salary and are likely going to force the price down.
Picks will be in play. Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney said he has received as many as six legitimate offers for the No. 3 pick and is mulling them over. Teams that have multiple picks in the first round might be willing to move one of them. In addition to the Leafs at Nos. 4 and 24, the Edmonton Oilers (Nos. 1 and 16), the Buffalo Sabres (Nos. 2 and 21), the Winnipeg Jets (Nos. 17 and 25), the Flyers (Nos. 7 and 29) and Arizona (Nos. 3 and 30) have two picks among the top 30.
At least one team also managed to get some business done, with the Ottawa Senators signing Mika Zibanejad and Calder Trophy candidate Mark Stone to new deals. Stone agreed to a three-year deal worth $10.5 million, while Zibanejad opted for a bridge deal of two years at $2.625 million per year.
“For Mika, getting a two-year bridge deal, the important factor is we get someone who can prove himself over the next two years,” said Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion. “If he can become that legitimate top-two line center…this gives him that time.”