"I think that's the way things are headed at this point in time," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told The Athletic's Josh Yohe. "I expect Kessel will probably play for Pittsburgh next season."
Kessel's contract includes a list of eight teams of his choosing he can be traded to. He reportedly flexed those muscles last month when he nixed a move to the Minnesota Wild due to concerns over the team's competitiveness.
"You have to understand that he has a no-trade clause and a lot of leverage," Rutherford said of Kessel. "In situations like this, it usually doesn't work out so well for the team. That’s just the way it is."
Kessel's name first popped up in rumors last summer due to a reported rift between him and head coach Mike Sullivan. The Penguins then tested the market again in December.
Despite Kessel's productivity over the past two seasons and his integral role in Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cups, moving out his $6.8-million cap hit (through the 2021-22 season) would create much-needed financial flexibility. The Pens are set to have just $3.2 million in cap space this summer, while defenseman Marcus Pettersson will headline a short list of RFAs due for raises.
"Well, we're going to have to move some people to clear up cap space," Rutherford said. "A couple of players, probably."
With Kessel likely staying put, the GM hinted that someone from Pittsburgh's stable of defensemen could be on their way out.
"I think it’s fair to assume that there will be different people there," Rutherford said, referring to the blue line. "It’s something we have to consider. We just have some extra bodies there right now. So it's fair to suspect that there will be changes on the blue line."
Overall, while the Penguins may not make the kind of splash that was expected this offseason, Rutherford was adamant that there will be roster turnover.
"Changes are coming," he said. "Changes are in order, for sure. At this point in time, I don’t know exactly what they are going to be. It’s hard to say right now, but changes are coming. I’ll say this, though. I don’t think we’re going to make any changes that I would refer to as massive. I'd say I'm looking to retool more than anything."