The last time the Florida Panthers had a speedy winger with a lethal wrist shot flying down the ice, Pavel Bure was winning Rocket Richard trophies in the early 2000s. The team has been in a decade long down period since the Russian Rocket moved on, but it appears the Panthers have the core nucleus on the verge of contention — especially if they can acquire a sniper. With the Toronto Maple Leafs on the verge of a complete overhaul, it would intrigue the Panthers to at least inquire about the availability of Phil Kessel.
Kessel’s contract is hefty — he’s in the first year of an eight year, $64 million deal — but with Florida’s ownership proclaiming a willingness to spend and putting their money where their mouth is, especially in trading for Roberto Luongo, it’s not out of reach. Adding Kessel during a playoff race would be bad news for the teams ahead of the Panthers in the standings such as the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.
I’d really like to see what a deal to a more lax environment like South Florida would for Kessel after playing his entire career in the fishbowl markets of Boston and Toronto. Kessel spends the offseason in the Fort Lauderdale area and loves the deep-sea fishing and golf that Florida provides. Such an environment on a full-time basis could see Kessel elevate his game even higher as he could finally become the 40 to 45- goal scorer he’s always been projected to be.
It goes without saying that the Leafs would want a hefty return for the two-time U.S. Olympian, and the Panthers have the pieces for a deal. While there’s no way the Panthers would part with Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau or Nick Bjugstad, there is enough organizational depth that a trade can be made. A package consisting of any mix of a first-round pick, Jimmy Hayes, Erik Gudbranson and prospects such as Vincent Trocheck and Michael Matheson could very well get a deal done.
While I think it is a bit of a long-shot the Leafs will move Kessel midseason, it goes without saying a deal to Florida could be a win-win-win. The Panthers need a goal-scoring star, Kessel needs a change of scenery and the Leafs need an organizational overhaul that nets them future building blocks. If Kessel does end up in South Florida, then look for a “back to the future” type environment as he could help the Panthers do what they’ve only done once since Bure left South Florida — make the playoffs.