It almost goes without saying, but the rumored Phil Kessel for Jason Zucker trade would theoretically work out great for the Minnesota Wild.
Kessel Trade Not Yet a Done Deal
It would obviously be dependent on a variety of factors, namely Kessel waiving his no-trade clause first, but Kessel is one player for whom the Wild would be able to justify moving Zucker. It would certainly beat the rumored return of Michael Frolik and a pick that the Wild had been looking to acquire in exchange for the 27-year-old winger months ago, anyway.
If this Kessel deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins pans out, the Wild should be grateful the Frolik one with the Calgary Flames didn’t. After all. Frolik is a depth player with an overpriced season at $4.3 million left. Even if Zucker had a poor 21-goal season after scoring 33 in 2017-18, he has the potential to score 30 again. He’s still in his prime after all, while the most Frolik ever scored was 21. He hasn’t scored that many in over a decade, though.
In contrast, Kessel is a regular threat to score 30, probably even more so than Zucker, seeing as the former has accomplished the feat six times in his career. He may be exiting his prime, but Kessel, who is the same age as Frolik (going on 32) still scored 82 points this past season.
We may soon see if Zucker is able to do the same playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but it would be a reach. It may also be a reach for Kessel to do the same on a less-offensively talented Wild team, but Kessel did score a point per game on multiple occasions when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Tyler Bozak as his center. So, it is at least a possibility.
Kessel Worth More than Zucker
It comes down to the fact Kessel is a game-breaking talent. If you have the opportunity to acquire him for a reasonable price, you take it and run, much like the Penguins did for a package that effectively comprised a slew of depth players, including Kasperi Kapanen, who has ended up being the most impactful of the bunch.
As a result, the Kapanen deal seems like a steal for the Penguins, because of the Stanley Cups and that’s how it should be seen. Kessel contributed to two championship runs with the Penguins, in spite of an unjustified reputation that he was a problem child.
Well, how many teams can win consecutive championships immediately after acquiring a problem child, after failing to win a single conference-championship game in six seasons? On the other hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs still can’t get out of the first round. Clearly, Kessel wasn’t the problem.
Bottom line, as evidenced by Kessel’s Conn Smythe Trophy-caliber 2017 postseason, those championships were as much about him as anyone else on that Penguins roster. Kessel is a proven winner and now the Wild have an outside chance to acquire him.
Yes, it would mean taking Jack Johnson’s ill-advised contract off the Penguins’ hands. However, Victor Rask, who’s almost as much of a disappointment with a larger cap hit (albeit with one less year under contract), would be going the other way. And, yes, Zucker is more defensively responsible than Kessel, but the Wild ranked 27th in the league in goals for last season. They meanwhile allowed the eighth-lowest amount of shots per game. They can afford to deal Zucker. It’s almost as if they can’t afford to let Kessel slip through their fingers.
If you’re the Wild, you wouldn’t be losing nearly as much as you’d be gaining. Hence the reason for Kessel’s higher cap hit, but, if you have the cap space like the Wild do (and the Penguins don’t), it just makes sense.
Granted, the deal may not get done, because Kessel has the final say-so, but if you’re a Wild fan there’s reason for hope. If it isn’t in the deal realistically getting done, it’s in the organization finally understanding what they need and what they can get for Zucker. A lot. Kessel would be quite the haul.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.