Phil Kessel really liked Rick Tocchet as a coach in Pittsburgh.
In fact, the Penguins winger called Tocchet his “favorite assistant coach of all time that I’ve ever played for.”
And now that Tocchet has left for Arizona, one columnist in Pittsburgh believes that Kessel’s days in a Penguins sweater are numbered.
I believe Phil Kessel will be traded. It might not happen this week or this month or even this offseason. But I believe it will happen sooner rather than later.
Tocchet’s departure could hasten the process.
It was clear in June, by the end of the Penguins’ second consecutive Stanley Cup run, that the organization wasn’t thrilled with Kessel. He scored 23 goals in 82 games during the regular season, not nearly enough for a player with his marvelous shooting skills. He had a huge goal — one of the most significant of the postseason — to beat Ottawa, 1-0, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final but scored just two more goals in the final 11 playoff games. Even though he had 23 points in the 25 postseason games, it was hard to find anyone in organization to say he was playing well.
We’d add that Kessel did have good chemistry with Nick Bonino (for a time), but Bonino’s in Nashville now.
Also, if the Penguins do indeed have their eyes on Matt Duchene, shedding Kessel’s $6.8 million cap hit may be a necessity.
Now, all that being said, Kessel does have a modified no-trade list. He also turns 30 in October, with five years left on his deal. So it may not be simple to move him, even if the Penguins wanted to.