Since joining the Pittsburgh Penguins in a blockbuster trade two years ago, right winger Phil Kessel has played a key role in their consecutive Stanley Cup championships. However, the recent departure of assistant coach Rick Tocchet prompted Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazetteto suggest the 29-year-old forward could be dealt by the Penguins in the near future.
According to Cook, Tocchet kept Kessel focused and also acted as a buffer between him and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. Sportsnet's Elliott Friedman agreed that there may be some validity to the column.
Kessel's expensive salary-cap hit ($6.8-million annually through 2021-22) could make it difficult for the Penguins to hold on to him for the duration of the contract. Perhaps Kessel could be traded again someday. However, the Penguins don't appear to be in any hurry to make that move.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford wasted little time addressing the Kessel trade speculation. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Jonathan Bombulie cited Rutherford's appearance Thursday on a local sports radio show singing Kessel's praises, adding he doesn't see trading him happening anytime soon.
Media criticism is nothing new for Kessel. He faced it during his three seasons with the Boston Bruins and was often the favorite whipping boy of Toronto pundits during his six-year tenure with the Leafs.
Some of the complaints are valid. At times. Kessel's production is inconsistent. His contract does take up a healthy chunk of the Penguins cap payroll. Except in power-play situations, he's never really clicked with Sidney Crosby.
That being said, Kessel remains an invaluable part of the Penguins' offense. While his goal production was down last season, he set a career high in assists (47) and his 70 points was the third-highest of his career. He finished third among Penguins scorers in each of the last two seasons and was their power-play points leader (30) in 2016-17.
In the 2016 playoffs, Kessel led the Penguins with 22 points in 24 games. Some believe he, not Crosby, should've won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year. He also finished third among this spring's postseason scorers.
As for Tocchet's departure, the Penguins replaced him with Mark Recchi on July 11. Sullivan pointed out Recchi's worked with Kessel several times over the last two years to help the winger grow his game, adding the two have a great relationship.
ARE MAPLE LEAFS SHOPPING BOZAK?
The Maple Leafs addition earlier this month of Patrick Marleau had the New York Post's Larry Brooks wondering if they'll start taking offers on center Tyler Bozak. If so, he expects the Rangers could get into the bidding, perhaps by offering up defenseman Nick Holden.
Kevin McGran of the Toronto Starreports a lack of salary-cap space this summer could force the Leafs to wait until the start of the season to re-sign restricted free agent forward Connor Brown. That sparked trade rumors regarding veteran players such as Bozak, linking him to the Rangers and Penguins.
McGran cites sources saying the Leafs weren't interested in what the Rangers were offering for Bozak. As for the Penguins, they're believed looking at reuniting the 31-year-old center with his old linemate Phil Kessel. McGran wonders if they might offer up blueliner Olli Maatta in return.
With Bozak eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency, it's unsurprising his name is surfacing in the rumor mill. The Leafs could be listening to offers but it doesn't appear they're in a rush to move him.
Should the Rangers make him a trade target it sounds like they'll have to offer up more than Holden to get him. While the Penguins are in the market for a third-line center, don't expect them to use Maatta as trade bait. Doing so would leave them dangerously thin on the blueline.
As for the Leafs summer salary-cap crunch, GM Lou Lamoriello said they'll be using off-season long-term injury reserve. That'll give them sufficient space to re-sign Brown.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.