The 2019 NHL offseason feels like it took place in a different reality. The Arizona Coyotes seemed like they were on their way up, and to help cement their growth, they went big to acquire a prolific goal scorer, Phil Kessel.
Kessel had a history with the Coyotes’ then-head coach Rick Tocchet, and it seemed like a perfect fit. But, unfortunately, that Coyotes team wouldn’t last for long, first with the hiring of a new General Manager and then with a new head coach.
Games Played: 82
TOI/Games Played: 16:41
PP TOI: 223:32
PK TOI: 2:05
Considering Kessel wanted to come with the Coyotes to play for Rick Tocchet, he played surprisingly well on a team in the first year of a rebuild under a new coach. His goals took a hit, but he didn’t look checked out.
Kessel could still do great things with the puck, but he wasn’t as good at finding scoring opportunities. After hitting the 20-goal plateau in 56 games last season, Kessel was limited to just eight goals this past year in a full 82 games.
But, even though he wasn’t scoring himself, Kessel did find a way to contribute to the team’s offense. Kessel comfortably led the team with 44 assists, and his 52 points put him third behind only Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz. Kessel had some problems finding the back of the net, but he could still put the puck on his linemate’s stick.
Perhaps the biggest stand-out moment for Kessel occurred early in March. Kessel started for the Coyotes against the Detroit Red Wings, got a shot on goal, and then hopped on a team chartered plane to head home for the birth of his child. It was great that Kessel was able to keep the streak going while getting to see the birth of his child and one of the high points of the season.
The Coyotes set up a charter flight, allowing Kessel to return to Phoenix for this important life event.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 9, 2022
One question seemed to follow Kessel throughout the season, though, what team would he be with when the final puck dropped? Kessel was on an expiring contract and wanted another shot at the Cup, and it wasn’t like the Coyotes were going to be re-signing the Madison, WI native.
But a trade never materialized for Phil the Thrill. The trade deadline came and went, and Coyotes’ General Manager Bill Armstrong could not make a move, and Kessel finished his season with the Desert Dogs.
There are a few reasons why Armstrong wasn’t able to trade Kessel. First, Kessel’s contract had an $8 million cap hit, and the Coyotes could not retain any salary. And while Kessel had played okay this season, he wasn’t playing like a star, and any team that acquired him would face pressure to keep his Iron Man streak going.
Kessel was probably bitter that he was forced to finish off the season playing meaningless games, but he didn’t let it affect him too much. In April, he recorded nine assists and a goal in 15 games, which isn’t great but isn’t a complete wash, especially for a team that struggled to score.
Kessel played three seasons with the Desert Dogs, and his career does seem to be winding down. The 34-year-old forward has done a lot and probably still has a few more games left in him, but it does seem like we are close to seeing the end of Phil Kessel’s playing career.
Phil Kessel’s future is one of the most intriguing questions this offseason. His Iron Man streak is still going, and with Keith Yandle being a healthy scratch for a game last season, he doesn’t have a lot of competition. But his play has taken a step back, and if he didn’t have a streak going, there is a chance that he would have been a healthy scratch this past season.
It will be up to Kessel to decide what is best for him. He seems to want to still compete for a Cup, but competitive teams are more likely to scratch him if his play isn’t up to snuff. But Yandle was scratched by a Flyers team that wouldn’t make the playoffs, so maybe all destinations have risks for Phil the Thrill. But either way, he probably won’t be with the Arizona Coyotes, although stranger things have happened.