The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is Monday, March 21 at 3 p.m. ET. As we get closer to the deadline we will take a look at some individual players who could be on the move. We start today with Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel.
The 2021-22 NHL season has mostly gone according to plan for the Arizona Coyotes. Or, at the very least, how everybody expected it to go.
They spent the offseason gutting the roster of veteran players (Christian Dvorak, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Darcy Kuemper) and stockpiling draft picks. Those trades have helped them accumulate eight picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 draft (three first-round picks, five second-round picks) and 12 in total. They are almost certain to add to those picks over the next month.
Jakob Chychrun‘s name has been mentioned in trade talks for most of the season, while the team is loaded with pending unrestricted free agents. The latter group includes veteran forward Phil Kessel who seems almost guaranteed to be traded before the March 21 deadline. What motivation is there for the Coyotes to not trade him at this point? The team has one of the worst records in the league, the team is clearly rebuilding for the future, and Kessel is 34 years old and would seem to have no long-term future with the team.
So where is he going? Which teams would make sense?
What the return might look like
Kessel is no longer an elite player or goal scorer and is having a very down year in the latter category. As of Monday, he has just six goals in 50 games this season which is a nine-goal pace over 82 games. Part of that is due to a career low 5.7% shooting percentage, part of it is due to decline shot volume, and part of it could be just being on a rebuilding team short of talent. Either way, a change of scenery seems like a good thing for him. Still, his production, age, and contract are not going to result in a huge return. Maybe a second-round pick? Third-round pick and mid-level prospect? That is probably the neighborhood we are looking at here. Retaining salary could probably boost the return a little for Arizona.
The most logical landing spots
• Boston, New York Rangers, Nashville, Los Angeles
In trying to think of teams that make would make sense I am looking at potential playoff teams that need some additional scoring depth and would have the salary cap space to add Kessel’s salary without needing to do much maneuvering around it. The Rangers have a great top-six but definitely need more from their bottom-six and have the salary cap flexibility to go for it. Nashville is in a similar situation and has a track record of not being afraid to swing significant trades or go after big name players to build its roster. A return back to where his career started in Boston would be interesting, especially given how top-heavy the Bruins’ lineup is right now with the same three players (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak) carrying so much of the offense at forward.
[Related: Why Rangers should be aggressive at trade deadline]
Wild Card team: Minnesota
Do they need to add somebody? No way. They are already a very deep team with a great offense. But they are a contender and have to get through Colorado is they are going to make a deep run. Every little bit of extra talent and skill can help. Bill Guerin, Minnesota’s general manager, knows first hand what Kessel can do for a team in the playoffs after watching him help Pittsburgh (when Guerin was an assistant general manager) win back-to-back Stanley Cups during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
[Related: Emboldened by Boldy, should Wild be trade deadline buyers?]
Spot I want to see just for fun: Pittsburgh
No, this is not going to happen, but let’s get chaotic since we are just doing this section for laughs. Brian Burke once traded a boatload of draft picks (good draft picks!) for Kessel and had zero regrets about it, the Penguins might need another middle-six winger, they can definitely use some power play help, and there is an obvious track record of success here.
NHL Trade Deadline prediction
Back to Boston for a draft pick to help give the Bruins some additional scoring punch behind their top-three forwards. Think the change could help jumpstart Kessel’s offense this season for a stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoff run.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.