Not surprisingly after Elliotte Friedman broke the news that the Leafs are actively fielding calls on Phil Kessel we are seeing a influx of Kessel destination speculation. First we had the Predators outed as likely suitors by Friedman, and Bob McKenzie has hinted that the Panthers and Blues may also be interested in revisiting past interest in Kessel. Today we can now add the Washington Capitals to list of teams speculated on, as Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington ponders if the world is read for Ovechkin and Kessel to be on the same team (via Spectors Hockey).
“If the Caps hope to trade for a top-line right wing before or during the NHL draft later this month – and the key word is hope – there’s a guy named Phil Kessel being dangled just north of the border.”
That sound you hear is thousands of sportswriters preemptively writing “defensive black hole” stories about the Caps top line next season, but considering the need to spread out the scoring in Washington this interest makes some sense.
“Unless a team can dump significant salary in exchange for Kessel, the field of suitors for the Wisconsin-born sniper will be a small one.”
This isn’t exactly a new concept and given the Leafs situation, I think it’s something Toronto should be happy to take on as they still need to fill out their roster. In Washington’s case the salary dump discussion begins with Brooks Laich, who isn’t a bad player to take on. Beyond that Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer are the other names that may make sense. I’m excluding Orpik as I’m sure being one of their big free agent signings last summer excludes him from being an immediate dump.
“As noted by Caps general manager Brian MacLellan, this year’s crop of UFA right wings is a thin one, with Marty St. Louis, Justin Williams, Michael Frolik, Antoine Vermette and Michael Ryder in the mix. However, next year’s crop of UFAs could be this summer’s trade bait and among the right wings who could be dangled are Shane Doan [$5.3 million] Radim Vrbata $5 million], Loui Eriksson [$4.25 million], Jakub Voracek [$4.25 million] and Kyle Okposo [$2.8 million].”
Clearly Kessel is the best option, especially when you factor in there’s no way in that Philly or the Islanders are trading Voracek or Okposo. St. Louis may be an interesting name for the Caps, but no one here is really in the same class as Phil.
Some Cold Water
Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey reminds us that this is probably not happening, but not before putting some context to what the value of Phil Kessel is.
“don’t expect to see Kessel suiting up with the Capitals next season. For one thing, the Caps already have considerable payroll invested in Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom ($16 million combined) and they’re going to re-sign goalie Braden Holtby to a considerable deal (Think at least $6 million per season, perhaps more). They can’t afford to add Kessel’s salary. For another, it could cost them defenseman Karl Alzner or John Carlson, promising center Evgeni Kuznetsov and either a top prospect or first-round pick to pry Kessel away from Toronto, and I don’t believe the Capitals make that deal.”
A deal that could start with Kuznetsov and a 1st is damned interesting and pours a lot more gas on the Kessel situation. Even if the Caps aren’t a match, having this as a template for a deal is interesting.
We have a week of hockey left where you can pretty much guarantee a blockbuster deal isn’t going to happen. Kessel’s name is out there so far that it’s almost impossible to imagine that he’s returning to the Leafs next season. Pretty much every team has at least some interest in an elite goal scorer. It’s likely this is resolved by the draft, but with bonuses paid out on July 1st, it’s entirely possible we’re waiting a little while longer for closure.
The Caps are an interesting trade option. They have a first round pick in both the 2015 (21st OV), 2016 draft. They have interesting young players like Kuznetsov, Carlson, Burakovsky, and (sigh) Wilson. And they have a salary dump in Brooks Laich that seems less awful than what most teams would include. They also seem like a completely unobjectionable destination that no one would refuse to waive their no trade clause for. They also have a ton of cap space and could really take on Phil’s deal without even needing to do a salary dump. I am comfortable with saying the Capitals are a team worth watching for as we reach the Phil Kessel endgame, which seems like it will play out in the next month.