Earlier in the week, PHR’s own Ethan Hetu covered the situation surrounding the pending free agency of Carolina Hurricanes forwards Vincent Trocheck and Max Domi. Now, however, we pivot to the Western Conference, turning the magnifying glass on Arizona Coyotes veteran (and two-time Stanley Cup champion) Phil Kessel. Arizona opting to not move Kessel for a return at this year’s Trade Deadline surprised many. The NHL’s now-resident iron man has a respectable 52 points in 81 games this year on a Coyotes team that’s put up just 202 goals on the season, the worst such number in the NHL, and that wasn’t due to a crazy post-deadline bump in production. Now, after the eight-year contract extension he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013 expires this offseason, the 34-year-old could hit the open market for the first time in his NHL career.
The bottom line remains that the Coyotes need NHL forwards next season. While their situation for 2022-23 has improved slightly after the acquisitions of young forwards Jack McBain and Nathan Smith, it’s unlikely that both of them (especially McBain) are ready for full-time NHL roles as soon as this fall. With the team surely a no-go destination for most of the NHL’s free-agent pool due to their arena situation, it’s not too far out of left field to assume Arizona’s choice not to move Kessel was influenced by the team’s desire to extend the veteran before he hits the open market.
If Kessel decides though, as he very well could, to join a team with more hype for 2022-23, the market for him should and will likely be there. While Kessel does just have eight goals on the year, his disastrous 4.7 shooting percentage (the lowest figure of his career) offers a compelling explanation for that. He’s not a factor defensively and hasn’t been for a few seasons now, but he remains a skilled and intelligent play-driver as evidenced by his 44 assists on the year. The fact that he’s having his best offensive season in Arizona in the year where he’s had the least talent surrounding him is sure to convince multiple general managers that Kessel still has it in him as a middle-six winger.
One near-perfect past comparable to Kessel’s situation is that of Corey Perry. Bought out a few years ago by the Anaheim Ducks, Perry signed a one-year, $1.5MM contract in Dallas after a career-worst season in Anaheim. He’s managed to continue performing as an extremely valuable depth piece on successful teams, helping provide secondary scoring. Kessel likely fits right into this mold, and could see a similar one- or two-year deal signed this offseason, albeit likely with a higher price tag. Perry had just 10 points the prior season, with Kessel outproducing that by about five times.
While there are multiple younger, flashier options on the market this offseason, they’re also a lot more expensive than Kessel would be. A short-term deal limits the negative implications of the contract if Kessel does enter a steep decline, and his Stanley Cup pedigree is obviously attractive around the league. A cap hit in the $4MM neighborhood seems likely for Kessel on a one- or two-year deal, though it could of course be lower if he opts to take a discount to join a cap-strapped contender. Arizona would likely need to offer more than that number to retain his services if they wish.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Would you rather have Domi or Kessel at this point?
I think that’s a really tough call. There’s no doubt Kessel will see a lot of positive shooting regression next season, but Domi isn’t *quite* as much of a black hole defensively — although that could easily be attributed to Kessel playing on the Coyotes. I think I’d take Domi but not by very much, mostly because there’s still the massive decline risk that comes with signing a 34-year-old free agent.
Domi. 7 years younger, not as much a liability on defense and Kessel has always been known to be a cancer in the locker room, which is why he’s moved as much as he has despite his talent early on in his career.
By “always” you mean except that time he went to Pittsburgh and became enormously popular with his teammates, the organization and the fans and won two Stanley Cups (including one in which he probably should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy), right?
Yes. The same guy who they then moved on from though everyone loved him. He was as popular as Tony D’Angelo.
You are wrong about that. He was a very popular teammate in the Penguins locker room. The Penguins had cap issues and his skill level was starting to erode.
By the way Padang, we’re you alive when the Flyers won the Stanley Cup?
Clubhouse cancer … BS. Kessel has been great for the Coyotes’ kids this season. Yes, he wanted to be dealt to a Cup contender, but his cap hit was too much for playoff-bound, cap-strapped teams at the trade deadline.
I’ve never read anywhere else that Phil would consider returning, but I really hope he comes back to Arizona now that he has a baby who was born here. The desert agrees with his love of golf, and I’m sure the young core of Keller, Schmaltz and Crouse would love to have Kessel setting them up again next season after helping them with their best in 2021-22.
Huh. I agree with Josh Erickson that it’s not hugely clear-cut. I’d probably prefer Domi, largely on the age thing. It’s more likely that Domi just keeps on scoring the 45-or-so pts he’s consistently produced than that Kessel keeps on chugging along. Kessel’s been remarkably durable through his career — hell, he missed less than a dozen games with *testicular cancer* — and all things going well he’ll be the first NHLer to rack up a thousand consecutive games, but you just can’t bet on a 35 year old man keeping it up.
Doesn’t mean, of course, that Kessel isn’t a useful player still, for any team needing an offensive boost. A bunch of guys who’ll earn more money than Kessel will next season will produce a good bit less.
Arizona trades Domi to Montreal for Galchenyuk. Carolina trades Galchenyuk for Dzingel and Paquette. Carolina trades for Domi.
Filthy Phil is absolutely going back to Toronto on some veteran deal.
gotta love this stupid narrative from writers that have no idea, that no free agents would want to play in brand state of the art facilities. Most of these guys don’t care how big the arena is. If the Coyotes were going to the playoffs this year there would be players lining up to sign here. The rebuild is what will hurt bringing in FA’s, not the arena.