Phil Kessel

PHT Morning Skate: Ron Wilson expects Phil Kessel ‘to score at least 40 goals this year’


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Ron Wilson — Phil Kessel’s former coach in Toronto, who once ripped Kessel for being “uncoachable” — says the former Maple Leaf is destined for great things with the Penguins. “Pittsburgh is building a team that wants to win the Stanley Cup now, and I think Phil is only going to add to their success, so I expect him to score at least 40 goals this year and be a dominant player again.” (

Sounds like the Oilers will hire University of Alberta bench boss Ian Hebers as one of Todd McLellan’s assistants. (Edmonton Journal)

Are the NHL and NHLPA looking to score $8 million in jersey sponsorships fees from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? (TSN)

Fancy stats are being utilized in arbitration hearings. (TSN)

Nashville has re-upped with depth defenseman Anthony Bitetto on a one-year, two-way contract worth $665,500 at the NHL level and $60,000 at the AHL level. (NHL)

After a busy and important offseason, highlighted by the Brandon Saad trade, the Blue Jackets “have to go out and perform,” according to team president John Davidson. (NHL)

‘It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel’

Phil Kessel

For all the criticisms of Phil Kessel — and we’re not saying they’re all without merit — here are some facts:

— He has 247 goals in 668 career NHL games. Among active players, that’s the 29th-most goals. And he’s only 27.

— Over the last five seasons, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Corey Perry have scored more goals than Kessel. And Kessel’s center has mostly been Tyler Bozak. In Pittsburgh, it’ll be Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

That’s why Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is excited to have acquired Kessel, whom he considers “right there” in a class with Ovechkin and Stamkos.

“It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel,” Rutherford told TSN.

Not only did Rutherford get the player he wanted without giving up Derrick Pouliot or Olli Maatta, two young defensemen the Pens will need even more now, he convinced the Leafs to eat $1.25 million per year of Kessel’s salary.

Without that concession by the Leafs, the deal couldn’t have happened, Rutherford said, noting that the Penguins already have Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury signed to big, long-term contracts.

Oh, and Rutherford isn’t done yet. He still hopes to add another winger, as well as a fourth-line center.

Video: Will Toronto deal Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf?

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

With Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli already dealt, hockey insider Darren Dreger joins the NBCSN crew to discuss the likelihood of the Toronto Maple Leafs dealing Dion Phaneuf or Phil Kessel prior to the trade deadline.

Dreger also discusses what defensemen are available and what the New Jersey Devils plan to do with 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr.

Plenty of Phil Kessel trade talk in Toronto today


Following yesterday’s deal of Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville — which some saw as the first in potentially long series of moves — Toronto turned its collective focus today to an even bigger piece of trade bait:

Phil Kessel.

First, GM Dave Nonis appeared on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central to address the Kessel rumors, just days after Kessel dropped his “if it’s not here, it’s not here” answer to questions about his future in Toronto.

“Yes, we signed Phil long-term; we think he’s a good player. I think he’s still top-20 in goals this year despite the fact he’s had a difficult time lately, but he doesn’t have a [full] no-trade,” Nonis explained. “We do have teams we can trade him to. You need to have some flexibility to change your team, and we have that.”

Moving Kessel, who’s under contract through 2022 at $8 million per, would be a tall task for Nonis, which is why the Leafs GM tempered trade enthusiasm with the reality that, more often than not, players of Kessel’s ilk tend to get moved in the summer.

“Players that are at that end of the pay scale usually get moved in the off-season, if at all,” he explained. “Very few get moved in the season, but we have had discussions with other teams.”

But with the cat out of the bag (and roaming around the house at will, to continue the analogy) it’s not surprising that rumored suitors are beginning to surface. One of those, apparently, is the Florida Panthers — all of which started with a tweet from Sun-Sentinel beat writer Harvey Fialkov.

On the surface, the deal would make some sense. The Panthers struggle to score goals — currently sitting 25th in the league at 2.36 per game — and Kessel, one of the game’s premier snipers, would provide an immediate boost in that department (and, lest we forget, the Panthers sit just three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight’s play.)

Fialkov also said he spoke with Kessel at the All-Star Game about playing in Florida.

“I asked Phil point blank would he like to play for the Panthers, and his face lit up,” Fialkov explained. “He has a summer home in South Florida.”

While the actuality of Kessel going to Florida prior to the deadline seems far-fetched — would the Leafs really settle for anything less than one of, or some of, the Panthers’ promising youngsters? — today’s banter foreshadowed how crazy will likely get as Mar. 2 draws closer. The Kessel sweepstakes are officially on.

Habs’ Subban stands up for Phil Kessel

Carey Price, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban

The Canadiens and Maple Leafs are fierce rivals, but Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban put that aside to support Toronto forward Phil Kessel following the Habs’ 2-1 shootout victory over them tonight.

“I don’t think Phil (Kessel) gets enough credit for his personality,” Subban told Montreal Gazette writer Dave Stubbs. “He’s a personable guy if he knows you. If you put a microphone in (Kessel’s) face and ask him stupid questions, he’s not going to show that (personable) side of himself.

“I don’t think (Kessel) gets enough credit for showing his personality. He’s an outgoing guy and he’s really funny.”

Kessel has certainly taken quite a bit of heat this season. Some of that comes with the fact that he’s the best and highest paid player on a team that’s in a free fall, but that’s not the extent of it. For example, after Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was fired, another former Toronto bench boss, Ron Wilson, called Kessel unreliable, which led to a heated exchange between Kessel and Toronto Star reporter Dave Feschuk over his coachability.

At this point Kessel might feel resigned to the possibility that the Maple Leafs will trade him, which wouldn’t be an unreasonable thing for Toronto to do for reasons that aren’t at all related to his personality.