NHL free agency is well underway, as the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. The Penguins also acquired right-winger Tyler Biggs, defenseman Tim Erixon and a second-round draft choice in 2016 for forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Nick Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington and first- and third-round draft choices next season.
Scott Ferrall, a diehard Penguins fan, isn’t sure what to make of this trade. Kessel, who has 141 points over the last two seasons, is certainly an offensive threat, but what about defensively? Pittsburgh really struggled at that end this past season, no?
“Well, yes and no,” NESN, Sportsnet and NHL Network NHL analyst Billy Jaffe said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Remember, they had injuries in the back end in Pittsburgh, especially Olli Maatta. To me, Olli Maatta is enormous for them – getting him healthy and getting him back and getting him to where he becomes a mainstay for them. He really, along with (Kris) Letang, completes that defense a lot better.”
The Penguins hope Kessel can complete the offense.
“What they’ve had issues with in the last couple of years – and you know this well – is not having a guy consistently scoring on the right side,” Jaffe said. “They brought in David Perron last year form the Edmonton Oilers – and he was all right, but nowhere near enough. Between (Evgeni) Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby, you need to consistently have guys that feel they can finish, and that’s where Phil Kessel comes in. We all know he can score, and he’s a pretty damn good passer of the puck, too. All kidding aside about Kessel, he doesn’t look pretty out there. He looks a lot like a beer-leaguer physically at times, but he can do things. He can shoot the puck, he can pass the puck. The question is, can he do it consistently and can he do it when it matters most? That’s going to be the big issue.”
As part of the deal, Toronto will pick up 15 percent of Kessel’s $8 million cap hit – $1.2 million each season – and covered a $4 million bonus he was due Wednesday.
Sounds like a steal for Pittsburgh.
“Well, they gave up the young kid Kasperi Kapanen, who was the first-round pick last year,” Jaffe said. “And people you talk to about him, they like him. He’s the real coup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s conditional first-round picks involved as well. Right now, (the Penguins) got the (best) player in the whole deal. I wouldn’t say stole him, but you can tell that Toronto said, ‘Listen, we’re going to make this work. We’re going to take over a million dollars of his salary per year through the term of the contract because we want to make it work for you.’ And that’s the only way that would happen for Pitt. They had to have $1.2 million taken by Toronto.
“The reality is this,” Jaffe continued. “They’re looking for complete change of culture and personality in Toronto, and you had two major personalities there: Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. One of the two of them is gone. Now the question is will Phaneuf be there come October and opening night?”