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Rumor Roundup: Kessel, Zucker obvious trade bait with off-season approaching

There was a reported deal on the table that would have sent the Penguins' Phil Kessel to the Wild in exchange for Jason Zucker, but the swap fell apart. Now, Pittsburgh and Minnesota need to go back to the drawing board to move both players.

If you're wondering which players are most likely to be traded this summer, look no further than Pittsburgh Penguins winger Phil Kessel and Minnesota Wild winger Jason Zucker.

Last Thursday, The Athletic's Josh Yohe cited sources saying Wild GM Paul Fenton offered Zucker to the Penguins as part of the return for Kessel. Yohe's colleague Michael Russo subsequently reported Kessel declined to waive his modified no-trade clause, in part because he didn't consider the Wild to be a Stanley Cup contender.

Pittsburgh's need for younger, affordable talent has Kessel sitting atop TSN's off-season trade-bait list. The 31-year-old winger has three years remaining on his contract with an $8-million annual average value, $6.8 million of which belongs to the Penguins with the Toronto Maple Leafs picking up the rest.

Yohe suggested the Arizona Coyotes could be among the teams on Kessel's list of preferred trade destinations. He developed a strong work relationship with Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet during his tenure as a Penguins assistant coach. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the Penguins will want a scorer in return. With the Coyotes finishing 28th in scoring this season, Friedman doubts they're a good fit. Perhaps a playoff contender in need of scoring punch will come calling. The Nashville Predators would fall into that category. Given their own salary-cap constraints, it would have to be close to a dollar-for-dollar swap.

Zucker is also on TSN's trade-bait board. The 27-year-old Wild winger has four years left on his deal with a $5.5-million annual salary-cap hit.

This is the second time a deal involving Zucker has fallen through this year. The Wild attempted to ship him to the Calgary Flames at the February trade deadline but the two clubs couldn't reach an agreement in time.

Trading Zucker will be the latest in a series of notable moves by Fenton this season. In January, he shipped winger Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for center Victor Rask. One month later, he dealt center Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins for center Ryan Donato and winger Mikael Granlund to the Nashville Predators for winger Kevin Fiala.

Russo claims the Flames and Penguins remain interested in Zucker. He also said Fenton spoke to the Coyotes about Christian Dvorak and Christian Fischer, the Flames about Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik and the Vegas Golden Knights about Jonathan Marchessault.

Fenton faces a deadline to make an unfettered Zucker trade. On July 1, the winger's modified no-trade clause goes into effect.

The San Jose Sharks’ recent elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs raised questions over the future of Erik Karlsson. The 28-year-old defenseman – who will turn 29 on May 31 – is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. In a recent tweet, he thanked the team and its fans but signalled no intention of returning.

As the top defenseman in this summer's free-agent market, the two-time Norris Trophy winner could command top dollar. Reports last summer suggested Karlsson could seek a deal comparable to Drew Doughty's eight-year, $88-million contract with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Sharks have over $58.3 million invested in 15 players for 2019-20. Longtime Sharks forwards Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton and trade-deadline acquisition Gustav Nyquist are also due to become UFAs. Meanwhile, restricted free agent wingers Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will seek substantial raises. GM Doug Wilson can't afford to keep everyone.

Despite Karlsson's spate of injuries since 2017, he'll garner plenty of interest in the free-agent market. Following the Sharks post-season elimination, ESPN's Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters speculated the all-star blueliner might be interested in joining old friend Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers.

Prior to the Sharks acquiring Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators last September, the Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly had interest in him. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman feels the blueliner wants to see if the Bolts will try to sign him. That could prove difficult. They have over $74 million tied up in 17 players next season and must re-sign restricted free agent center Brayden Point.

If Karlsson is willing to accept between $8-million and $9-million per season, The Athletic's Joe Smith believes the Lightning could try to fit him in. Smith suggests trading wingers Ryan Callahan and J.T. Miller would create an additional $11 million in cap space.

Under that scenario, signing Karlsson and Point would be a tight squeeze but Smith feels it's doable. Whether Lightning GM Julien BriseBois shares that view remains to be seen.

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