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NHL - US Sports: What next for Phil Kessel?

10 August 2022 04:40:37 EST
Phil Kessel is currently without a team following his Arizona exit

Having seen his three-season spell with the Arizona Coyotes come to an end, just what does the future hold for free agent Phil Kessel?

Kessel is somewhat of an enigma in the NHL. He has scored 956 points (399 goals, 557 assists) in 1,204 regular season games and has two Stanley Cups to his name, but yet probably hasn't really got the credit that he deserves.

Now a free agent, the 34-year-old's days of being a 30-plus goal scorer in the NHL are likely over, but his signing could still be valuable for several NHL teams.

Lot to play for

Kessel scored just eight goals in 82 games with the Coyotes last season, which was the lowest tally of his 16-year NHL career which has also seen him play for the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins.

As a team, though, Arizona scored just 206 goals, and Kessel had an involvement in 52 of them, also collecting 44 assists.

The veteran will know whatever contract he signs next will be significantly less than the $8million annual which he has earned for the past eight years, but that won't concern the American too much who still has a lot to play for.

Iron man streak

Kessel has played a remarkable 982 consecutive NHL regular season games and is seven away from tying Keith Yandle's longest ever Iron man streak.

Yandle's run ended last season, giving Kessel the chance to catch him and this might play into his decision of where to sign.

The winger could provide scoring depth to a Stanley Cup contender, however, a team with such aspirations are unlikely to want to be held to playing him every night.

So, to guarantee his selection, Kessel may well choose to re-sign with the Coyotes or another team who don't have the expectation or pressure of winning, and who can guarantee him selection to reach and surpass the proud milestone.

Low risk signing

Kessel accepts that at this point in his career he is a complementary player, and as such won't be an expensive addition for a team looking to bring him in. 

For a cup contender, he is a low risk add, and given the player he has been in the past, the reward could prove to be very high for a team who uses his talents as well as the Penguins did to help them win back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017.

With the Penguins, Kessel played second fiddle to the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the freedom from being relied upon so heavily saw him lead Pittsburgh in post-season scoring in 2016 and put up a career-best 92-point season in 2017/18.

If he were to agree to sign for a non-contender, whether the move works or not shouldn't matter too much as the team will have the ability to flip him at the trade deadline to a team looking for a player to do exactly as described above.

Kessel's destination remains truly unknown however there are several teams where he would fit.

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Replacement for Puljujarvi

The Edmonton Oilers are said to be looking to trade forward Jesse Puljujarvi, who filed for arbitration before signing a one-year ($3million) contract with the team earlier this month. If they were to be successful, Kessel would be a good fit to fill the void of the player who enjoyed a career best season scoring 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists), but at a more affordable level.

Could help fill Fiala void

The Minnesota Wild could also do with Kessel's offensive contribution after they traded Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings earlier this summer to fit within the wage cap.

Fiala scored 33 goals and a total of 85 points last season and while Kessel would unlikely have that same impact, his 52 points from last season would have only trailed four Wild players - proving just how valuable he could be for them.

Fuel the Flames

Similarly, the Calgary Flames have been left with an offensive hole in their line-up after losing both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk.

Although helped by the acquisition of Jonathan Huberdeau for Tkachuk, the Flames are still lighter on offence than they were last season and Kessel could help bridge that gap.

Return to Arizona

Finally, a return to the Coyotes shouldn't be ruled out. Forced to spend the next three years at least playing out of a 5,000-seater rink, Arizona isn't an attractive option for many in free agency. 

And ultimately, they need players. Deciding not to trade Kessel before last season's deadline, the Coyotes indicated that they are likely to try to extend the veteran, but with radio silence surrounding his situation, at this point, it's all guess work.

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