The need is established: the Calgary Flames are lacking on the right hand side, and Phil Kessel is an elite right winger. The connection is readily apparent: Brian Burke originally got Kessel to Toronto, and he's now in Calgary.
That leaves just two questions:
- Would Kessel come to Calgary?
- What would it take to get him?
Selling Calgary to Phil
Kessel will be entering the second year of an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $8 million. He'll be 34 years old when that deal expires, so if you're getting him, you're getting him for a long time.
There's another part to that contract, though. With it, Kessel can decide just where he goes. He has a no movement clause, as well as a no trade clause on which there's a list of eight teams he'll accept a trade to. (The number eight is very important to his contract, apparently.) Those teams are the:
- Boston Bruins
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Los Angeles Kings
- Minnesota Wild
- Montreal Canadiens
- New York Rangers
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Pittsburgh Penguins
No Calgary there, but it's not as though the Flames can't try to change his mind. After all, that's exactly what happened with Curtis Glencross. The former Flame had control over where he was traded, and the Washington Capitals weren't initially on his list. The Caps wanted him, though, and while that ended up not working out, they sold him on DC and convinced him to allow a trade there.
Could the same thing happen with Kessel? Sure. While all of the teams he'd prefer to go to are either eastern-based or perennial contenders (the Kings missing the playoffs this year aside), they're also all mostly hockey hotbeds. He isn't even opposed to Canada, as evidenced by his willingness to go to the Canadiens.
We know Burke likes Kessel - he'd trade the two first round picks, which turned into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, for him again - and it's always nice to feel wanted. Furthermore, while the Flames aren't exactly a contender, they're a team on the rise. With superstars already in the making, not all of the pressure to perform would be on Kessel.
As our friends at PPP remind us, only five players have put up more points than Kessel over the past four seasons. So take a moment to immerse yourself in fantasy, and imagine just how good a Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Phil Kessel line could be.
How much would it cost?
Back to reality, because Kessel isn't going to come cheap.
This isn't a Jarome Iginla situation where the Leafs absolutely have to trade him, and he only really wants to go to one team, and all that team has to give up are two mediocre prospects and a late first round pick. The Leafs don't have to trade Kessel. They have him locked up long term, and he's a major points producer.
Include the Flames' first round pick by default. No, they aren't getting one back. If it's before this draft, then the 15th overall pick is going to Toronto. If it's over the off-season, then the 2016 first round pick is gone, and that pick could be anywhere. The Flames could regress hard and end up with a top pick in 2016, they could stay about the same, or get better, as is their aim.
On top of that, it's going to take some of the Flames' better young players. Bennett, Gaudreau, and Monahan should be considered unavailable by default, and probably TJ Brodie as well.
So think Emile Poirier, the Flames' best prospect yet to make the NHL, going the other way, and likely an extra pick as well. Another young player like Markus Granlund or Josh Jooris may have to go as well. If the Leafs are playing especially hardball, it may be Mikael Backlund instead... or even Jiri Hudler, who has one year left on his contract, and who the Flames may very well move for an extremely good offer.
Would it be a good move?
That's a lot to give up for one player, but this is an elite scoring winger in a position the Flames are weak in. If they really are an aggressive team this offseason, this may be a deal they're considering. Kessel would immediately improve their offence, immediately improve their right side, and immediately improve what was already a very, very good line.
It would also cost a lot of young assets for the Flames, and while they want to establish themselves as contenders sooner rather than later, they're still a rebuilding team, and young assets are important.
Should they do it? It really all depends on just how much the Leafs want. If Backlund is involved, the Flames should consider stepping away, because their centre depth pretty much dies without him. Hudler is a different story, because Kessel would essentially be taking his spot in the lineup. The prospects are a bit more of a wash, because ultimately, you'd be hoping any of them turn out as well as Kessel already has.
Losing a first alongside Poirier would definitely hurt, though, and remember: that still may not be enough for the Leafs. It may be better for the Flames to err on the side of caution and work with what they already have, rather than jump on the big fish of the moment, even though that fish is really, really good at hockey.