After spending the past eight years on a contract paying him $8 million annually, Phil Kessel will be forced to take a pay cut for the first time in his NHL career, and it won’t be a small one. The 34-year-old is no longer a top-line winger like he was during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins. That said, he can still play and would be beneficial to several teams around the league for the 2022-23 season.
While Kessel will never again be the 92-point player we saw seasons ago with the Penguins, he still possesses offensive talent. This past season, he managed eight goals and 52 points despite the fact that his team the Arizona Coyotes ranked dead last in the league with only 206 goals scored. That has many believing that, if put in a better situation, he may be able to produce even bigger numbers and given we are weeks into free agency and he remains unsigned suggests he may do so on a bargain contract. With that said, here are three teams that would make plenty of sense for him to end up with.
The Edmonton Oilers currently sit $2.9 million over the salary cap and still have to re-sign three restricted free agents in Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson. Of course, they will get roughly $6.3 million of extra space to work with once Mike Smith and Oscar Klefbom are placed on long-term injured reserve, but that still won’t give them enough to re-sign the three above while also adding Kessel to the mix, meaning a trade is likely.
Kessel’s name has been linked to the Oilers as of late, in large part due to the fact that a Jesse Puljujarvi trade still remains a possibility. If they do indeed move Puljujarvi and his $3 million cap hit, that would potentially open up the room they would need to bring in Kessel, though that would be dependent on what the return for the 24-year-old Finn is. It would also mean that they would need a replacement on the right side, a role which Kessel could fill (from ‘Allan Mitchell: Lowetide: Who will the Oilers trade for cap purposes? Is Phil Kessel a viable option?’, The Athletic, 1/8/22).
Kessel may no longer have the speed needed to play alongside Connor McDavid, but he would be a fine option on the Oilers’ third line alongside McLeod. Of course, with his age, there is a chance of continued regression, though he wouldn’t come as a huge risk given that his contract should be rather inexpensive.
When they chose to trade Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings this summer, the Minnesota Wild lost a significant chunk of their offense. While trading the 33-goal, 85-point scorer certainly wasn’t ideal, it was something general manager (GM) Bill Guerin was forced to do due to his team’s salary situation and, to this point, he hasn’t been able to replace that offense yet.
By no means will Kessel provide the same impact Fiala did just a season ago, but he would help what is somewhat of an underwhelming roster up front as of now. In fact, his 52 points from last season would have only trailed Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman and of course Fiala, proving just how valuable he could be for them.
While they may still look to add another cheap goaltender behind Marc-Andre Fleury, the Wild appear to be set on the blue line and still have over $4 million in cap space. This means that if they wish to sign Kessel, they would certainly be able to.
The Calgary Flames recently proved that they are not interested in a rebuild at this time, as they were able to bring in a huge haul for Matthew Tkachuk that included both Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar. They will continue to be a very competitive team in the Western Conference once again in 2022-23. That said, they could still use some scoring depth up front.
While adding Huberdeau was huge for the Flames’ forward group, they still lost one of the league’s best players last season in Johnny Gaudreau. His offence won’t be replaced by anyone available, but Kessel could help lessen the blow. Plus, not only do they have the cap room to bring him in, but they may also have an opening already on their roster.
Jakob Pelletier is currently being penciled in by most to crack the Flames’ lineup out of training camp this season, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen. Head coach Darryl Sutter has shown time and time again to be a big fan of veteran players, and GM Brad Treliving hasn’t ever been shy to give his prospects plenty of time to develop in the American Hockey League. If they chose to give him a bit more seasoning in the minors, they would likely need to sign another forward for the 2022-23 campaign, and Kessel is undoubtedly the best option left on the market.
Kessel a Low-Risk Add
As mentioned multiple times throughout the article, Kessel will not be an expensive addition for any team looking to bring him in. At this point in his career, he is more of a complementary player rather than the main star. Simply put, he is a very low-risk add, and given the player he has been in the past, the reward could prove to be very high. One would imagine that he has a deal in place prior to training camp, but it may still take weeks for anything to be finalized, as some teams could be looking to deal with their cap situations first.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.