Late last night, the Vegas Golden Knights announced the signing of one of the biggest names still available on the free agent market: forward Phil Kessel. Per the team announcement, Kessel signed a one-year deal worth $1.5MM. Per CapFriendly, Kessel’s contract includes a modified no-trade clause, one that allows Kessel to list 10 teams he is eligible to be traded to.
CapFriendly currently has the Golden Knights as over $7MM above the cap with these signings, but that’s with players such as Robin Lehner, Laurent Brossoit, and Nolan Patrick on regular injured reserve, rather than long-term injured reserve. Both Lehner and Patrick are expected to miss the entirety of the 2022-23 season, meaning their absences give Vegas the bandwidth under the cap to add Kessel and re-sign RFA defenseman Nicolas Hague.
Kessel, who will soon turn 35 years old, has spent the past three seasons playing for the Arizona Coyotes. In his 208-game career with the Coyotes, Kessel has posted 133 points, which is a healthy 52-point 82-game pace.
Noting an 82-game pace with Kessel’s production is especially relevant due to the fact that he is currently the NHL’s reigning “Iron Man,” meaning he has gone 982 games straight without missing a contest, a steak that dates back to November 2009.
It’s definitely possible that his steak could pose a lineup dilemma for new coach Bruce Cassidy if Kessel struggles in Vegas. Cassidy has the reputation of demanding a lot from his players, and Kessel’s notorious apathy to the defensive side of the game could land him in hot water if he’s not scoring. But even with that being said, Kessel remains a talented enough offensive player to confidently project as a contributor in Vegas next season.
While he might not be the impact scorer he was in Pittsburgh anymore, Kessel is still a quality offensive talent who can offer a team a lot of value if utilized correctly. Former head coach Peter DeBoer and his assistant Steve Spott drew significant criticism from the Vegas market for the team’s lackluster power play, so the addition of Kessel could be seen as GM Kelly McCrimmon giving his new coach a new tool to help turn the page for that unit.
Cassidy will have some options as to where to deploy Kessel, especially with former top-line winger Max Pacioretty gone. Vegas could opt to stick Kessel on Nicolas Roy’s wing on the team’s third line, or he could prefer to put Kessel on Jack Eichel and Mark Stone’s line, with the idea that Stone’s defensive prowess will help cover for Kessel’s defensive deficiencies.
While we might not know exactly what route Cassidy will go in terms of his deployment of Kessel, there are few coaches in the NHL with a stronger resume than the Golden Knights’ new coach. If there’s any coach that will find a way to best maximize Kessel’s unique player profile, it’s Cassidy.
The Golden Knights are under significant pressure to improve upon last season’s disappointing campaign. The signing of Kessel isn’t going to be what makes or breaks their season, but it does provide their lineup with another intriguing weapon.
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