Phil Kessel vetoed a recent trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, general manager Jim Rutherford told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh on Monday.
The 31-year-old forward has a limited no-trade clause. The two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games this season after he had an NHL career-high 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists) in 82 games in 2017-18.
“In Phil’s situation, he was just part of a decision here in a situation where we were trying to retool and we had a chance to get a good player, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he has to be traded,” Rutherford told the radio station. “He’s been a really good player for us. We wouldn’t have won the Cups without him. He’s an impact player, he will be for a few more years. So we’ll see how that plays out.
“The biggest thing is from a team point of view, you can’t have the player controlling the trade because if you do, it’s not going to work out for the team, so at this point in time I view it that Phil will return with the team. I’m not actively pushing to trade him at this point. If somebody comes along with a deal that makes sense, we’ll take a look at it, just like most of the other players.”
Rutherford did not name the team involved in the proposed trade but said the Minnesota Wild were not on Kessel’s list of eight teams he can be traded to without his approval. The Athletic reported June 11 that Pittsburgh nearly completed a trade last month that would have sent Kessel and defenseman Jack Johnson to Minnesota. Kessel has three seasons remaining on an eight-year contract he signed with Toronto on Oct. 1, 2013.
“To that point, he’s a player that deserved to get the position he’s in where he had a no-trade and pick eight teams that he would go to and otherwise have some say in whether he’d go to other teams,” he said. “So I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary here. He’s exercising his right. Obviously, it’s frustrating for the team when you feel that the trade we were going to make was the right thing for the Penguins, but Phil didn’t do anything wrong.”
Kessel was chosen by the Boston Bruins with the No. 5 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft and hasn’t missed a game since the 2009-10 season (774 games), has been traded twice in his NHL career. He was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Bruins on Sept. 18, 2009, and traded to the Penguins from the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015.
Rutherford told The Athletic last week that Kessel was unlikely to be traded but said changes are coming for Pittsburgh, which was swept by the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season after finishing third in the Metropolitan Division (44-26-12). Defenseman Olli Maatta, who won the Cup with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday for forward Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
“We’re not finished making changes,” Rutherford said. “I would expect that there will be a couple of more before training camp starts.”
Rutherford said he is not looking to trade veteran forwards Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, and defenseman Kris Letang. Malkin had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 68 games this season. It was his lowest goal output in the NHL since he had nine in 31 games in 2012-13.
“The guys that you mentioned are not guys I’m pushing to trade or feel that I have to trade from the Penguins,” Rutherford said. “They’ve been great players, they still are and they’re the kind of guys you win championships with.
“I didn’t say I was going to actively push to trade the guys you just mentioned, but I didn’t say that I wouldn’t. The best example of all, people hear this over and over, is [Wayne] Gretzky was traded, you know, one of the greatest players of all time. Sometimes there’s certain packages (that) come along that you have to look at, and that’s why I kept that door open.”
Rutherford also addressed goalie Matt Murray, who can become a restricted free agent after next season, and coach Mike Sullivan, who is entering the final season of a three-year contract he signed Dec. 26, 2016.
“I have several other things on my plate right now that I’m looking at, and maybe at some point in time I’ll take a look at both those contracts or maybe just let it run out until the end and do it at that point in time,” Rutherford said. “Mike Sullivan’s obviously has been a good coach here. We’d like to keep him here, he’d like to stay. In Matt Murray’s case he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the year, so we still control that. I don’t see any hurry in doing those, but certainly both those guys are people we’d like to keep.”