Rumors surrounding Phil Kessel and his future with the Toronto Maple Leafs has been running rampant for a while now. There have been some who speculated that, with their deep farm system, that the Islanders could make a play for Kessel. My THW colleague Anatoliy Metter did a great job looking at this back in February, prior to the trade deadline. However, with the rumors coming back now and the draft in a few weeks, I thought I would take another look.
Is his contract to big?
The Islanders are no longer in the area where they have tons of cap space and are using bonuses and buyouts to reach the cap floor. After signing Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to seven-year contracts, with an extension going to Kyle Okposo in the works likely to be similar to the contract given to Boychuk, and the combination of Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, and Brock Nelson needing new contracts, cap space is starting to become scarce. Along with Kessel and his 40 goals comes seven more years with a cap hit of $8 million per season. While a goal scorer of his caliber would be something that Tavares hasn’t really played with before, beside his few months with Thomas Vanek. Given the current cap situation of the team, taking on his contract might not be in their best interests.
Where does he fit?
If the Islanders were able to pull off likely a draft-day deal for Kessel where would he fit on the team? The first-line right-wing spot is occupied by Okposo right now and he has developed great chemistry with Tavares over the years. Someone like Kessel could help the game of Strome or Nelson, or whoever plays center immensely. However, with his huge contract, can you play someone like Kessel somewhere else beside the first line and still get your money’s worth? That is a good question that I am not sure we can answer.
Another idea is letting Okposo go as a free agent and keeping Kessel in his spot. That doesn’t fit the way Garth Snow has done things during his tenure, though. He has always been someone who took care of the hometown guys, and I expect him to do the same with Okposo.
Will Kessel find his way to Brooklyn?
Ultimately, I don’t expect the Islanders to acquire Phil Kessel this offseason. After signing Mike Babcock, I started to think Toronto wouldn’t look to deal Kessel, anyway; but that is a discussion for another day.
His very rich contract will only be part of the reason Kessel isn’t on Tavares’ line in Brooklyn next season. The Islanders lack draft picks the next two seasons after making a couple trades in the last few years, most notably the Vanek and the Boychuk deals. The lack of picks will make it extremely hard to get a deal done, unless they are willing to trade multiple prospects — something, for the most part, they haven’t shown a willingness to do. While Kessel would certainly help, I think the Islanders can better spend their resources elsewhere.