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The Dollars And Sense Of The Phil Kessel Trade

The Pens will lose productivity with Phil Kessel, but gain much needed cap space in the long run.
Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In a span of four years, Phil Kessel went from a disgruntled winger in Toronto to a superstar in Pittsburgh. In his tenure in Pittsburgh, Kessel never missed a regular season game. He scored 110 goals and 193 assists (303 points total) in 328 regular season games. It was obvious that the Penguins were successful with Kessel. So why did General Manager Jim Rutherford and the Penguins trade Kessel to Arizona? Well, it’s pretty simple: cap relief.

Let me detail the trade out for you. The Penguins are sending Phil Kessel and prospect Dane Birks along with a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Alexander Galchenyuk and prospect Pierre-Oliver Joseph. As it would stand right now, the Penguins would be gaining $1.9M in cap space while Arizona would be picking up Kessel’s $6.8M contract. Galchenyuk will be paid $4.9M before becoming an unrestricted free agent next off-season. Here’s the full breakdown of the trade from CapFriendly.

Breakdown of Kessel Trade from CapFriendly

One of the biggest questions after this trade is what role will Galchenyuk play on the Penguins. Galchenyuk is by trade a center but has exceptional offensive skill which allows him to play his strong side of left wing. As a left-handed shooter, Galchenyuk can play beside Malkin or build his own line. If he were to build his own line, it would probably be beside Nick Bjugstad and either Dominik Kahun or Bryan Rust.

Additionally with Galchenyuk, if he continues his current production rate (0.6 points per game), the Penguins could resign him on a reasonable deal, hovering around $5M for 3 years. This deal would be a win for the Penguins since I personally value Galchenyuk at around $5.5M to $6M per year. Looking at NHL possession metrics, for his entire career, Galchenyuk has a CF% (Corsi For Percentage) of 50.2%. To put this in perspective, CF% is the percentage time that the player’s team has possession while the player is on the ice. So, a little over 50% of the time, Galchenyuk’s team has had possession of the puck when he is on the ice.

Last year in Arizona, he had a CF% of 48.5% but a relative CF% of 0.9%. Relative CF% is On-Ice CF% – Off-Ice CF%, which shows how much offense the player provides compared to the rest of the team. The advanced possession metrics point to Galchenyuk being an offensive talent who is still able to reach the peak of his prime. At 25 years old, Galchenyuk has at least 3 more years of his prime, which the Penguins can make use of this season.

Coming over with Galchenyuk is the young defenseman Pierre-Oliver Joseph. Drafted 23rd overall in the 2017 NHL draft, Joseph wowed scouts with his smooth and explosive skating along with his mature vision and decision making. However, he has a glaring weakness: his size. Listed at 6’2″ and 168 lbs, PO Joseph is quite slim and slender for a defenseman. If Joseph wants to earn a spot in the Penguins’ depth chart, he’ll need to bulk up at least 10 more pounds. Though he lacks in size, he uses his slender frame to his advantage with an explosive first few steps. Once he gains his speed, he is able to maintain it quite well, while holding onto the puck until a strong advantaged play appears.

With over $3M available in cap space, and a large projected amount of cap space in the next few years, the Penguins could be spending money on key depth and future core players soon. Trading Phil Kessel away hints at the Penguins slowly stripping down movable pieces in order to stay successful while preparing for a future core.

Sasank is a student at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in computer science and minoring in business. He is a huge hockey and baseball fan, but also enjoys following the Steelers and Spurs on the side. His passion lies in applying machine learning to sports analytics. As a mentor in the Carnegie Mellon Tartan Sports Analytics Club, Sasank does sports analytics research on hockey in order to bring more clarity to skater and goaltender performance. He can be reached on Twitter at @_svish.

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