In his peak throughout the 2010s, Phil Kessel was a consistent 30-goal threat, displaying his electric shooting talent en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins (and with the Toronto Maple Leafs before that). While Kessel’s move to Arizona for the last three seasons may have left him forgotten in some circles, he’s coming off his best season in three years.
Despite a career-low 4.6 shooting percentage, Kessel will pitch his relatively high point total, especially given the poor state of affairs in Arizona, to convince teams he’s still a credible threat. And, looking at his strong play-driving numbers from last season, he may have a point. Despite seeing his ice time dip to its lowest point during his three years in Arizona, Kessel still managed to finish within 11 points of the team lead at age 34.
It’s not often that a 34-year-old is on the open market with a strong reason to invest in a rebound season, but that’s the case with Kessel. Even if his defense hasn’t been pretty lately, it was never a selling point to his game. Considering his career average shooting percentage sits over 10 percent, expecting Kessel to have a stronger offensive season in 2022-23, at least in terms of putting pucks in the net, is a safe bet.
His Stanley Cup pedigree should also make him an attractive option for teams looking for affordable depth to help push them over the hump to a Stanley Cup.
2021-22: 82 GP, 8-44-52, -24 rating, 40 PIMs, 175 shots, 45.3 CF%, 16:41 ATOI
Career: 1204 GP, 399-557-956, -148 rating, 372 PIMs, 3700 shots, 49.3 CF%, 18:02 ATOI
Kessel should find a home before a lot of other veterans are forced to settle for PTOs as training camps begin. While he’s not what he used to be, he still had more than 50 points last season. With his low price tag, he should be an attractive option as teams continue to tinker with their rosters during the month of August.
There could be a spot for him in the bottom six of a retooled Calgary Flames forward group. While Jakob Pelletier is a strong candidate to make a jump to the NHL next season after a strong season in Stockton, Kessel could challenge other veterans such as Milan Lucic or Sean Monahan for playing time at a cheaper price and more goal-scoring upside. He could go Cup-chasing with the Colorado Avalanche as well, as they’ve lost some depth forwards such as Andre Burakovsky and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. He could also stand to be a solid secondary scoring option for the Minnesota Wild after they lost Kevin Fiala.
If he wants to head back East, the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, and Florida Panthers are a trio of teams that could use him in their bottom six.
Kessel came in 23rd on our Top 50 UFAs list in early July. While he likely won’t command the $2MM AAV we predicted at this point, there’s still a solid chance he could earn seven figures and not have to settle for a league minimum deal. It all likely depends on the cap situation of the team Kessel opts to sign with, as after over $90MM in career earnings, per CapFriendly, money likely won’t be a huge factor in his decision.