SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman Reports That UFA Phil Kessel Wants To Continue His Career; Could He Fit With The Blue Jackets?

By Dan Dukart on September 5, 2023 at 10:15 am
Phil Kessel skates for the Vegas Golden Knights
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Kessel, fresh off his third Stanley Cup victory, remains a UFA. 

His playing status wouldn't be all that notable, expect he's the NHL's current 'Ironman' holder, and has currently played in 1,064 regular season NHL games. Per SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman, the soon-to-be-36-year-old has let teams know that "it won’t be a problem if he’s not an everyday player." That verbiage insinuates that there had been some consternation that a team would have to make him a healthy scratch if his play faltered. Perhaps ironically, the Vegas Golden Knights, the team he just won the Stanley Cup with, did make him a healthy scratch through much of the playoffs, but that doesn't impact the NHL's consecutive game record since it is not the regular season.

Kessel may not be the player he once was, but he's still a capable offensive producer. In 82 games with Vegas last season, he tallied 14-22-36 in a lessened capacity. Over his 1,286 regular season game career, he's posted 413-579-992. 

Would it make sense for the Blue Jackets to bring in the veteran? 

In the "no" camp, the Blue Jackets have a more crowded roster than many would expect from a 31st-place finisher. This is perhaps most true on the wings. Even if there was space, it's fair to wonder if new head coach Mike Babcock would jive with Kessel (note: they did not overlap in Toronto). Then there's the financial ramifications. A season ago, Kessel signed for one-year, $1.5M. It's fair to assume that, if he finds a contract, it will be similar to that. But many teams can't squeeze even a modest $1.5M into their cap. Per CapFriendly, 20 teams have under $1.5M available in 'projected cap space'.

The Blue Jackets, however, are one of the 12 teams that are not in cap prison. So taking a short flier on an aging veteran doesn't seem to be an issue. Also, the organization could probably afford to get older/more experienced if they are genuinely trying to compete for a playoff spot this year. 

If I were in GM Jarmo Kekalainen's shoes, I would be open to bringing him in on a no-risk, high-reward PTO, just to see how he looks in training camp. But I'm not sure I would feel good about inking him to a contract given the number of players competing for basically the same slots as Kessel. In the end, I would expect Kessel to continue his NHL career outside of Nationwide Arena. 

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