Arizona Coyotes: Thank you Phil Kessel!
The Arizona Coyotes have let Phil Kessel leave via free agency. Though nobody should be surprised that he is not returning to the team with the rebuild, his age, and declining production, fans should be grateful for the three seasons he spent with the Coyotes.
The Coyotes traded for Kessel on June 29, 2019. The team sent Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Kessel, Dane Birks and a fourth-round pick. Initially I must admit that I was skeptical of this trade.
Galchenyuk had a solid first season with Arizona, and Joseph a former first round pick, were both much younger and cheaper than Kessel. It was clear that the team really wanted to bring in a proven goal scorer to pair with up and coming Clayton Keller.
Kessel was coming off of a 27 goal, 55 assist, 82 point season.
In all honesty I was never a big Kessel fan in spite of the fact that he had won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, and had multiple 30+ goal seasons in his career (many of his career goals have been scored in garbage time). I never viewed Kessel as a leader or clutch player.
I thought that Galchenyuk was going to just go off that season and the Coyotes were about to look very foolish. I was wrong.
Coming to Arizona the team really tried to brand Kessel, “Phil the Thrill” and merchandised the crap out of him.
Kessel never came close to putting up the numbers that he did with the Penguins. That should not be a surprise nor should it be a knock on him, he played with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. Two hall of fame players who elevate anybody paired with them.
Kessel never scored 30 goals while in Arizona, something he was known for in all of his stops throughout his career. What Kessel did do was help the team win.
His first season in Arizona, the team went 33-29-8, and made the playoffs. They made it out of the qualifying round, defeating Nashville 3 games to 1. The addition of Kessel prompted the team to go all in and trade for Taylor Hall, a move that I believe caught all hockey fans by surprise. The Coyotes were serious about winning, an attitude they had never had before.
Their awesome 2019-2020 season came to an end at the hand of the Colorado Avalanche, losing 4 games to 1. Their fairy tail season ended, and that offseason the team lost Hall, Vinnie Hinostroza, Derek Stepan, Michael Grabner, and Brad Richardson.
Entering the 2020-2021 season, the team had a different feel and a different look. The team went 24-26-6 and failed to make the playoffs. Kessel however, was one of the few bright spots. He led the team in scoring with 20 goals, 23 assists, and 43 points in 56 games.
Last season, year one of the rebuild, Kessel was around for the entire season and finished with 8 goals, 44 assists, and 52 points. His 52 points were good for third on the team. His last two seasons with the Coyotes he faced nonstop trade rumors and still showed up and played very well, on a very lousy team.
In spite of the trade rumors, front office changes, coaching changes, and offseason team drama (see City of Glendale), Kessel never missed a game.
He currently is a free agent and is 7 games away (982) from tying the all-time consecutive games played record (989), held by former Coyote Keith Yandle. Current rumors hint that he could end up in Edmonton, Minnesota, or possibly a team like the Kings or Kraken.
Though Kessel is at the end of his career, he will end up in the hall of fame. His three years in Arizona might be looked at the same way as many former NHL greats who spent the twilight of their career in the desert. I would say that he was much more to this team than guys like Mike Gartner, Brett Hull, and Craig Janney.
My thoughts on Phil have changed after getting to watch him play in Arizona. I am a fan of Phil Kessel. Thank you Phil! You led this team for three seasons. Good luck with the next stage of your career.