The free agent market is thinning out. Without much money to spend, Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon has to be cautious with who he brings aboard. There are some notables still out there and familiar faces.
McCrimmon can choose to gamble on players such as Noah Gregor, Jaroslav Halak, or Denis Malgin. Maybe one of those players can flourish in Vegas? It’s an unknown.
Why not bring back a guy that the entire locker room loves? Why not bring back one of the unsung heroes of the Vegas Golden Knights Stanley Cup run? Why not bring back the player that every Golden Knights player loves to impersonate?
This is the case to bring back Phil Kessel! Kessel checks three very important boxes; reliability, statistics, and team morale.
Reliability: The Golden Knights have been on the wrong side of variance as far as injuries for the past two seasons. That shouldn’t be an issue for Kessel, who has played in 1,064 consecutive regular-season games.
Kessel can be inserted anywhere in the top three forward lines and the power play. He also is a player on the ice who isn’t afraid to make the safe play. Younger players may have a tendency to try and make something out of nothing, which could lead to a turnover. If Kessel doesn’t see anything, he will dump the puck and get off the ice for a line change.
Statistics: Kessel has 992 points in 1,286 career regular season games plus another 83 points in 100 career playoff games. The 2022-23 season was the worst statistical regular season for Kessel since entering the league 17 years ago.
Kessel should improve on his 36 points from the last regular season. A full year under Bruce Cassidy’s system and familiarity with his teammates should push Kessel back to the 45-point range.
Team morale: This is the most important box that Kessel checks. Jonathan Marchessault and Jack Eichel spoke about Kessel’s character and leadership recently. Kessel has had a positive impact on every player in the Golden Knights locker room.
The Golden Knights have a roster that is primarily made up of seasoned veterans. There’s a chunk of players in their mid-20s such as Eichel, Zach Whitecloud, Nicolas Hague, Keegan Kolesar, and Nicolas Roy who could learn plenty from a guy like Kessel. Up and comers like Pavel Dorofeyev and Kaeden Korczak can benefit greatly just from being around Kessel in the locker room.
Kessel signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last season to play for the Golden Knights. It is safe to assume Kessel would take less to remain in Vegas.
What options does Kessel have entering his 18th NHL season? There have been no reported talks between Kessel and any NHL teams. Kessel will likely have some offers coming his way this month.
If Kessel wants to keep his ironman record intact, it may mean going to a team with little to no chance to compete for a Stanley Cup, such as the San Jose Sharks. If Kessel wants to be on a team that has a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup, his ironman streak may come to an end this season.