July 1 FA Frenzy: Pens big winners landing Kessel

Phil Kessel

On Day One of the free agent frenzy, the Pens were big winners landing Phil Kessel. It was indeed a Happy Canada Day for Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford who acquired the scoring forward from the Maple Leafs. Here are the details below.

Pens get F Phil Kessel F Tyler Biggs D Tim Erixon 2nd Round Pick

Leafs receive C Nick Spaling F Kasperi Kapanen D Scott Harrington 1st and 3rd Rd Picks

The condition of the first round pick depends on if the Pens make the postseason. The first is lottery protected. If they somehow missed, it would instead be a 2017 first. That also would mean the Leafs throw back a 2017 second instead of a 2016.

Even in a loaded Metropolitan Division, it’s hard to see the Pens missing the playoffs. Now that they’ve added a proven finisher in Kessel for Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin, they become scary. Finally, the 27-year old American has a top center to play with which could mean 40+ goals. He’s scored 30-or-more five times totaling 247 for his nine-year career with the Bruins and Leafs. Unlike Toronto, he won’t have to be the guy. A motivated Kessel could do wonders for the Pens.

As part of the trade, the Leafs are picking up $1.2 million of Kessel’s remaining salary. He’s entering the second year of an eight-year deal that pays him an average of $8 million per season. He’ll earn $10 million in 2015-16. The Pens are still paying a huge chunk for a player who came under fire in Toronto after a lackluster season that saw his production drop to 25 goals and 61 points with a minus-34 rating. Pittsburgh has $38 million committed to Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury through 2020. It should be interesting to see how they manage the rest of the cap.

Even though Toronto was criticized for not prying Olli Maatta or Derrick Pouliot, they still managed to get a good return for a player they couldn’t wait to get rid of. Kapanen is a Pens 2014 first round pick who came over from Finland joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the end of the AHL season. After netting a goal and helper in four games, he went 3-2-5 in the playoffs.

Harrington was a 2011 Pens second round pick who played in 10 games this past season. The former London Knight is a defensive defenseman who tallied two goals and 10 assists with a plus-19 rating for the Baby Pens. He’s 22 and should be ready to compete for a spot on the Leafs’ blueline. They’re still shopping captain Dion Phaneuf and center Tyler Bozak.

Spaling is the only roster player the Pens subtracted. The 26-year old forward came over from the Predators with Patric Hornqvist for James Neal. A solid checker, he registered nine goals and 18 assists while going 1-1-2 in the playoffs for Pittsburgh. He has one year left on a contract that pays him $2.2 million.

Biggs and Erixon also went back to the Pens. Neither looks like more than fringe players who’ll join Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Sadder for Erixon who once was a first round pick of Calgary in 2009. It wasn’t long ago that the Rangers traded Roman Horak for him as part of a bigger deal that netted the Flames Markus Granlund. Eventually, Erixon was part of a package for Rick Nash. He played parts of three seasons in Columbus before being dealt to Chicago for Jeremy Morin. Then lasted eight games before the Leafs claimed him off waivers. Now, he’ll join his fourth organization in less than a year.

In assessing the Pens forwards, it has the potential to be lethal with a projected top six of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Pascal Dupuis and David Perron. Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz are in the top nine with restricted free agent Beau Bennett. Pittsburgh only has six million left unless they dump Kunitz or Rob Scuderi. They re-signed defenseman Ian Cole to a three-year deal worth an average of $2.1 million. They’re looking for a backup goalie with Thomas Greiss landing with the Islanders.

If there is a weakness, the Pens are very top heavy. Their depth could be a issue. However, adding Kessel to Crosby and Malkin will make them dangerous. More on the frenzy later.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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