Late last night, the Vegas Golden Knights announced the signing of one of the biggest names available on the free agent market: forward Phil Kessel. Kessel signed a one-year deal worth $1.5MM, according to a team announcement. Per CapFriendly, Kessel’s contract includes an amended no-trade clause, which allows Kessel to list 10 teams to which he is eligible to be traded.
CapFriendly currently has more than $7MM over the cap with the Golden Knights signings, but that’s with players like Robin Lehner, Laurent Brossoit and Nolan Patrick, who are 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 absence will give Vegas bandwidth under the cap to add Kessel and re-sign RFA defenseman Nicolas Hague.
Kessel, who will soon turn 35, has spent the past three seasons playing for the Arizona Coyotes. In his 208-game career with the Coyotes, Kessel has posted 133 points, a healthy 52-point 82-game pace.
Noting the 82-game streak with Kessel’s production is particularly relevant because he is currently the NHL’s “Iron Man,” meaning he has gone 982 straight games without losing a contest, a streak that dates back to November 2009.
It’s certainly possible that his steak could create a lineup dilemma for new coach Bruce Cassidy if Kessel struggles in Vegas. Cassidy has a reputation for demanding a lot from his players, and Kessel’s notorious indifference to the defensive side of the game can land him in hot water if he’s not scoring goals. But even with that said, Kessel is a talented enough offensive player to confidently project as a contributor in Vegas next season.
Although he is no longer a dominant scorer in Pittsburgh, Kessel is still a quality offensive talent who can provide a lot of value to a team if used correctly. Former head coach Peter DeBoer and his assistant Steve Spott drew significant criticism from the Vegas market about the team’s weak power play, so Kessel’s addition could be seen as GM Kelly McCrimmon giving his new coach a new tool. unit
Cassidy will have some options on where to deploy Kessel, especially with the departure of former top-line winger Max Paciority. Vegas could opt to stick Kessel on the wing with Nicolas Roy on the team’s third line, or it could prefer to put Kessel on a line of Jack Eichel and Mark Stone with the idea that Stone’s defensive prowess will help offset Kessel’s defensive deficiencies.
While we don’t know exactly which path Cassidy will take in terms of Kessel’s deployment, there are few coaches in the NHL with a stronger resume than the Golden Knights’ new coach. If there’s any coach who can find a way to best Kessel’s unique player profile, it’s Cassidy.
There is considerable pressure on the Golden Knights to improve on last season’s disappointing campaign. Kessel’s signing won’t make or break their season, but it does provide another intriguing weapon to their lineup.