The NHL trade deadline is approaching, and the Bruins figure to have no shortage of options if they want to upgrade their roster before March 21.
Obviously, it all comes down to priority and price for Boston general manager Don Sweeney and the rest of his staff. No stone will go unturned, which brings us to a familiar face: Arizona Coyotes winger Phil Kessel.
The former Bruins sniper has spent the last three seasons playing meaningless hockey in the desert, and as he nears the end of the eight-year, $64 million contract he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has all the makings of a deadline rental for a contending team looking for a shot in the arm — at least on the offensive end of the ice.
As The Athletic recently pointed out, salary retention has lowered Kessel’s cap hit to $6.8 million this season, and it’s likely Arizona would have to absorb some of that figure in order to move Kessel for anything of slight value. Even that might be difficult for the Coyotes, who have reportedly offered him up in trade talks, according to a separate report from The Athletic earlier this month. Arizona reportedly sought a third-round pick for the 34-year-old while retaining half of his salary and haven’t gotten a bite.
For a team like the Bruins, it could make sense. CapFriendly.com currently has Boston with just over $5 million in deadline cap space, so Arizona taking on some of that space certainly helps fit him under the cap. A theoretical third-round pick (Boston doesn’t have its own but does hold Calgary’s in 2022) is also manageable for a former All-Star.
While a winger shouldn’t be the Bruins’ top deadline ask — second-line center remains the No. 1 need — they could use additional scoring. They’re very much middle of the pack when it comes to offensive output, and it’s the same old story. Boston ranks second in the NHL in expected goal-scoring 5-on-5, but when it comes to actually putting the puck in the net, they rank just 22nd in the league in 5-on-5 scoring.
Whether Kessel can actually help the Bruins improve in that regard will be the biggest question Boston must answer. Kessel has just six goals in 51 games this season on a bad Coyotes team. In his defense, his shooting percentage is just 5.5%, which could say a couple of things. It might indicate he’s been slightly unlucky, though the more likely scenario is he just hasn’t been around enough good players to put him in better positions to score goals; Kessel currently is skating on a line with Lawson Crouse and Alex Galchenyuk. It might also be worth noting more than 40% of Kessel’s zone starts have come in the defensive end, a considerable increase on his career rate and would be his highest since 2013-14 with Toronto.
The flip side to the shooting percentage thing, though, is maybe Kessel’s skills have just deteriorated and he doesn’t have nearly the same touch that helped him score 30 goals six times in his career. For what it’s worth, Kessel scored 20 goals in just 56 games last season with the Coyotes. So, maybe it’s still in there and just needs to be unlocked somewhere else. He could also be fed up with the situation in Phoenix, which wouldn’t be terribly surprising, either.
Kessel has always been slightly enigmatic. His teammates adore him, but his effort level fluctuates. He’s certainly not a defensively responsible player, and that’s unlikely to improve at this point in his career. He’s still receiving plenty of run on the power play, skating for 64% of Arizona’s man-advantage time this season, but scoring just a pair of tallies with seven assists.
It’s a tricky little debate. Boston has some solid assets and a decent amount of cap room. It wouldn’t have to jump at the idea of a 34-year-old Kessel just because he’d come cheap. At the very least, it’s a nice back-pocket option to consider and keep in mind as the deadline gets closer.