A rumor that hasn’t been going away the past month is a Phil Kessel reunion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kessel was largely beloved in Pittsburgh during his four years with the Penguins and was a huge part of their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. Kessel had a very good claim to the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016 that ultimately went to Sidney Crosby and was equally as effective in 2017 on the Penguins’ path to a repeat. He was an electric playmaker that fit the city of Pittsburgh like a glove.
But with the rumors flying Josh Yohe of The Athletic has poured cold water on the notion of the Penguins signing the now 35-year-old Kessel. Yohe writes that he doesn’t see the Penguins signing Kessel for a number of reasons. This echoes what Dave Molinari wrote last week in Pittsburgh Hockey Now where he said what Kessel brings to the table doesn’t fit with what General Manager Kyle Dubas and Head Coach Mike Sullivan are trying to do.
Both Yohe and Molinari’s assessments make sense given the roadblocks that would impede a potential return. The Penguins have signed a lot of bottom-six forwards for this upcoming season and appear to be favoring defensively responsible players, something Kessel has never been accused of being.
There is also the issue of Kessel leaving Pittsburgh on bad terms when he was traded in the summer of 2019. Many outside reports indicated that Kessel and Sullivan had a difficult relationship, however, both men have said that those reports were overblown by people who were outside of the situation.
The last hurdle, and perhaps the biggest one is the play of Kessel since he was traded by the Penguins to the Arizona Coyotes in 2019, he just hasn’t been as good as he was in Pittsburgh. Kessel has never taken great care of himself despite being the NHL Iron Man, and this has really shown in his play on the ice. Since the trade, Kessel has topped 14 goals just once, and 50 points once as well. Last season he found himself a healthy scratch for the majority of the playoffs as he watched the Vegas Golden Knights march to the Stanley Cup.
While a reunion would be fun and would add to what is going to be a wildly entertaining season of hockey in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t seem like it is going to happen, which will break the hearts of some Penguins fans.