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Phil Kessel trade makes Penguins big winners on Day 1 of NHL free agency

Thursday, July 2, 2015 2:16:21 AM America/Los_Angeles

The Pittsburgh Penguins were an undeniable winner on the first day of free agent hunting season because they bagged the biggest difference-maker in the marketplace.

While other NHL teams were picking through a mediocre free agent crop, the Penguins made a bold trade to acquire speedy right wing Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs to be Sidney Crosby's linemate.

"He's in the top three scorers in the league on a year-to-year basis," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told USA TODAY Sports. "You have Alex Ovechkin and then (Steven) Stamkos and then Phil Kessel."

Since Crosby entered the NHL, the Penguins have been looking for a winger with the speed and scoring touch to play with him. Kessel has scored 217 goals over the past seven seasons, an average of 31 goals.

Kessel might be more valuable now because next season the NHL will switch to three-on-three play in overtime, giving Kessel more room to use his speed. He can thunder down the ice like an F15 over open skies.

"We play a lot of tight one-goal games," Rutherford said. "You can never get enough goals or have enough goal scorers."

To land Kessel, right wing Tyler Biggs, defenseman Tim Erixon and a second-round pick in 2016, the Penguins gave up their top forward prospect Kasperi Kapanen, plus American League defenseman Scott Harrington, forward NIck Spaling, plus first- and third-round picks in 2016.

The deal includes a provision that should the Penguins miss the playoffs in 2016, then the first-round pick would be surrendered in 2017. If the Penguins miss the playoffs the next two seasons, Toronto would get a second-round pick in 2017 and Pittsburgh would receive no picks.

This was such a major trade in Toronto that Blue Jays manager Jon Gibbons opened up his news conference by asking whether the first question should be about Kessel

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