Phil Kessel (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
If Phil Kessel is on the trading block, which team would be interested in trading for him? The time in drawing near for the Hurricanes to make a decision on Eric Staal. And are the Dallas Stars looking to deal Kari Lehtonen?
In the aftermath of Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman's claim last Saturday the Toronto Maple Leafs were getting trade inquiries for Phil Kessel, there's growing speculation over where the 27-year-old scorer could be dealt.
If a Kessel trade happens, Friedman believes it will be a couple of weeks before it takes place. That's likely because the NHL draft weekend (June 26-27), where many off-season trades generally take place, is fast approaching.
Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer who twice reached the 80-point mark, has value on the trade market. His contract, however, is a sticking point. He has seven years left at an annual cap hit of $8 million. Factor in the projected marginal increase in the cap ceiling for 2015-16 from $69 million to $71 million and it could prove difficult for the Leafs to find a suitable deal.
Friedman subsequently appeared on Sportsnet's Hockey Central panel to discuss potential destinations for Kessel. He notes Predators GM David Poile had interest in the Leafs right winger, but doubts Nashville is a destination now, pointing out it has young stars like left winger Filip Forsberg and defenseman Seth Jones to re-sign the following season. Other destinations could include the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.
The Blues could use a shake up, but as Friedman points out, they'll have limited cap space once budding superstar (and restricted free agent) Vladimir Tarasenko is re-signed this summer. Right winger T.J. Oshie ($4.2 million) could be a trade candidate, but the Blues might have to add another salaried player as part of the return.
Prior to the March trade deadline, there was speculation the Panthers could be interested in Kessel, who makes his off-season home in Florida. While Kessel would probably welcome a trade to the Panthers, their April re-signing of trade deadline acquisition right winger Jaromir Jagr likely negates their need for a veteran scorer for 2015-16.
The Flames have the cap space to absorb Kessel's hefty salary. There's also the connection with team president and former Leafs GM Brian Burke, who brought the sniper to Toronto via a trade with Boston in 2009.
However, the Flames already have a top-line right winger in Jiri Hudler, who had tremendous chemistry this season with youngsters Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Though Hudler is four years older than Kessel and slated for UFA status next summer, the Flames could retain him. They must also ensure they leave sufficient long-term cap space for the big raises Gaudreau and Monahan are sure to command within the next couple of years.
NO MORE STALLING ON STAAL
The Carolina Hurricanes will soon face a serious decision regarding the future of their captain Eric Staal. The 30-year-old center is eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports Staal's agent, Rick Curran, is expected to meet with Hurricanes GM Ron Francis this week regarding Staal’s contract status.
LeBrun believes the Hurricanes will re-sign Staal to a cheaper, shorter-term than his current seven-year deal ($8.3-million annual cap hit) or put him on the trade block. Staal also has a full no-trade clause, giving him full control over potential destinations. This scenario is similar to that faced by the Ottawa Senators a year ago with then-captain Jason Spezza, who eventually agreed to be dealt to the Dallas Stars.
Staal could decide to finish his final season with the Hurricanes and explore the 2016 UFA market, where he could arguably become the most valuable player in the free-agent pool. However, if the veteran center feels he no longer has a future with the Hurricanes, he could provide a list of preferred trade destinations to Francis later this month. Given the lack of talent in this summer's free-agent market, there will be considerable interest in Staal if Francis tries to move him now.
ARE THE STARS LOOKING TO MOVE LEHTONEN?
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson recently raised some eyebrows claiming sources saying the Dallas Stars are shopping starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has three years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.9 million.
Stars GM Jim Nill denies Lehtonen, 31, in on the trade block. However, he told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News his staff is intensely studying their goaltending situation. Considering how poorly their netminders’ performance was this season, that revelation doesn't come as a surprise.
Though Lehtonen won 34 games this season, his goals-against average was a bloated 2.94 while his save percentage was a pedestrian .903. Backup Jhonas Enroth, acquired from Buffalo in a mid-season trade, could depart this summer via unrestricted free agency. Third-stringer Jussi Rynnas is heading to the KHL and once-promising Jack Campbell had a poor showing with the Stars' farm team this season.
Nill could call around to gauge interest in Lehtonen, but the veteran's inconsistency, injury history and big salary will seriously dampen his trade value. The Stars could stick with Lehtonen in hopes he regains his form. If so, expect Nill to seek an experienced backup for Lehtonen via trade or free agency. Options in the UFA market could include Calgary's Karri Ramo, Philadelphia's Ray Emery or Edmonton's Viktor Fasth.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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