Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan made it clear last month that he is looking for a new top-six winger to start next season. The free agency pool is somewhat lacking this term, so MacLellan will likely look for a trade. Some rumors regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel have surfaced, but is such a deal far-fetched considering how much it would cost the Capitals?
Kessel, 27, has seven years remaining on his eight-year, $64 million contract that conveys a salary-cap hit of $8 million. So unless Toronto absorbs a majority of that cap charge, it’s unlikely that Kessel will join the Capitals.
However, and it’s a big ‘however,’ stranger things have happened in the NHL. If the Capitals throw in a prospect (Jakub Vrana perhaps), a couple of draft picks and maybe even veteran Troy Brouwer – and the Leafs eat a small portion of Kessel’s salary hit – then the beefy right winger may end up in the nation’s capital next season.
There are more than a few ‘ifs and buts’ in the scenario and there are plenty of other teams who could land Kessel in a trade deal, but imagine a Caps first line featuring Kessel and Alex Ovechkin flanking center Nicklas Backstrom.
Brouwer is a crowd favorite and he’s scored some clutch goals for the Capitals over the years including the winner at the most recent Winter Classic, but MacLellan is (of course) a businessman. Sentiment always loses out to cash and success.
Since starting his NHL career with the Boston Bruins in 2006-07, Kessel has scored 247 goals in 668 NHL games for a points total of 520. His career plus/minus is an ugly minus-75 and it was minus-34 in the season that just ended. However, Ovechkin fishished with a minus-35 in the season before Barry Trotz arrived as head coach in Washington. Trotz transformed Ovechkin’s rating to a plus-10, and perhaps the magic Trotz worked on Ovi may transfer to Kessel.
Kessel, like Ovechkin, is a monster shooter and would become a valuable asset on the power play. With Backstrom supplying the puck to Ovechkin to his left and Kessel to his right, I wouldn’t want to be between the pipes during a Capitals’ man-advantage situation.
There are obviously other options for MacLellan to utilize to bring in a new top-six right wing. Current right wingers Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle each become unrestricted free agents on July 1 – and two of those three are expendable. And, of course, defenseman Mike Green and his $18.25 million contract (slightly more than $6 million per year) will almost certainly go away in July.
Even if Ward, Fehr and Green all move on, the Capitals would still need to sweeten a deal involving Kessel or ask the Leafs to absorb a greater slice of his salary.
If the planets align and stars collide, etc., Kessel would be welcomed with open arms in Washington, and Trotz would have the luxury of selecting him to play on either the first line alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin or the second line with Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. I predict that Kessel, if he somehow ended up in Washington, would start on the second line and feature heavily in the power play.
The next few weeks will bring an end to the rumor mill surrounding Kessel.
“It’s something we would definitely look at,” Maple Leafs interim co-general manager Kyle Dubas stated to the Toronto Star on Saturday about a possible trade deal involving Kessel.
If MacLellan is serious about improving the Capitals top-six forwards, Dubas should expect a phone call from D.C. soon.