Report: Panthers Eyeing Leafs’ Phil Kessel Ahead Of NHL Trade Deadline

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The Toronto Maple Leafs appear headed for a rebuild.

They traded veterans Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators on Sunday, and we could see more moves from the Original Six club before the March 2 NHL trade deadline.

One player whose future in Toronto remains uncertain is first-line right winger Phil Kessel. One team with interest in acquiring Kessel is the Florida Panthers, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

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In fact, Kessel is drawing interest from multiple teams.

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Trading a player of Kessel’s caliber, along with his substantial contract that carries an $8 million salary-cap hit through the 2018-19 season, is no easy task. It’s difficult to receive fair value, and there aren’t many teams with the combination of assets and cap flexibility to pull off this type of deal.

The Panthers are one team that could satisfy both requirements. Finishing out of the playoff race so many times over the last decade has allowed Florida to stockpile an impressive prospect pool with high draft picks.

Which players could the Panthers use to acquire someone like Kessel?

They have several talented young players at the NHL level, including forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov, as well as defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. Florida also has many prospects to use in potential trades, including forwards Quinton Howden, Rocco Grimaldi, Vince Trocheck and defenseman Mike Matheson.

The Panthers are three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and must decide whether to make a run this season or continue developing young players. There’s no question they would greatly benefit from acquiring Kessel because their offense ranks 25th in goals scored and 27th on the power play.

Kessel has tallied 47 points (21 goals, 26 assists) in 57 games this season. He’s a five-time 30-goal scorer.

Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images

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