It appears Phil Kessel has worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh.
According to a report from The Athletic, the Penguins are looking to deal the scoring winger. Pittsburgh and the Minnesota Wild were reportedly in the process of a trade that would primarily send Jason Zucker to the Steel City and Kessel to Minnesota, where he played one year of college hockey. But Kessel, who has a no-move clause in his contract, apparently nixed the deal.
Without getting inside Kessel's head, we can't know exactly which teams might interest him, but if we assume that he would prefer to be traded to a win-now team or a team that is ready to take the next step toward being a Stanley Cup contender in 2019-20, we can cut down potential locations to about half the league. Subtract teams in the Metro Division and teams that can't afford to acquire him and fit him under the cap, and we get the following list of franchises that make the most sense for a Kessel deal.
The case for adding Kessel: For years the Panthers have been dubbed a potential breakout team because of their young core of high draft picks. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau each cleared the 90-point threshold this season, and 25-year-old Vincent Trocheck has established himself as an offensive threat. A move last offseason for winger Mike Hoffman gave Florida more firepower, but depth scoring remains a serious issue. The top-scoring Panther forward behind Barkov, Huberdeau, Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov produced just 39 points (Frank Vatrano).
While the Panthers still put together an above-average offensive attack overall, finishing ninth in total goals, slotting Kessel into the second line would make them one of the most dangerous scoring teams in the NHL. With goaltending that could still be spotty and a group of defensemen that won't be mistaken for the 1990s Devils, Florida will need to play a high-scoring brand of hockey to win. They have the pieces in place to do so if they can add one more dynamic scorer.
What a deal could look like: The Panthers can sweeten any pot with draft picks. They own Pittsburgh's second, Edmonton's third and three fourth-round selections this year. Florida also has players who might intrigue the Penguins, including Vatrano, who scored 25 goals, and 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgstrom. It might look like the Panthers would be veering off course by moving a younger player for Kessel, but the team has made the playoffs just twice this century, so being aggressive while Barkov and Huberdeau are at their peak makes sense.
What could get in the way: Pittsburgh might be looking for established scorers in return. The Panthers wouldn't benefit much from moving out a point producer like Trocheck or Hoffman in exchange for an older version. Kessel could also shut down a potential deal based on Florida's recent history.