Make no mistake, the Boston Bruins signing unrestricted free agent veteran winger Phil Kessel has the makings of a great full-circle story for him and the team, but it’s unlikely to happen.
Kessel, whom the Boston Bruins drafted fifth overall at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, entered the NHL news cycle on Thursday thanks to a report by Sportsnet NHL Insider that NHL’s current Iron Man is willing to give up his streak of playing 1,064 games straight to entice an NHL team to sign him for the upcoming season.
‘The three-time Stanley Cup champion wants to play again in 2023-24. But the most significant detail is that he’s let teams know it won’t be a problem if he’s not an everyday player.
Kessel is the NHL’s Ironman, the only player in league history to play at least 1,000 games in a row. His current streak is 1,064 — 75 more than Keith Yandle, whose record Kessel broke last season. (Kessel did not appear in all of Vegas’s playoff games, but the postseason does not factor into consecutive games records.)
Letting teams know this detail in advance is important because ending these streaks causes enormous stress if there is not buy-in from the player. In 2020-21, for example, Florida teammates made their displeasure very clear when the Panthers wanted to scratch Yandle from the lineup at the start of the season. He didn’t miss a game.’
That could be enticing to any team like the Boston Bruins, who still view themselves as contenders but are also trying to incorporate some of their youth into the lineup this season. After losing longtime captain Zdeno Chara following the 2019-20 season, the Bruins just lost another one of the most outstanding leaders in team history when their captain since Chara left, Patrice Bergeron, retired last month. As expected, longtime center David Krejci followed suit a few weeks later. So why not at least bring in Kessel, who by all accounts, was a valued voice and leader in the dressing room for the Vegas Golden Knights en route to their first Stanley Cup championship, and Kessel’s third?
The answer is simple: The Boston Bruins have a logjam of wingers and a shortage at the center position on their roster. Factor in the fact that Kessel had 14 goals and 22 assists in 82 regular season games and then two assists in four playoff games with the Golden Knights last season, and he’s likely not providing that much more on the ice than any of the current potential bottom six wingers on the Bruins. Also, with a tempered youth movement about to get underway and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney signing another veteran winger, Alex Chiasson, to a professional tryout on August 21, signing Kessel could block a roster spot for a younger player.
Oh, by the way, even bringing in Kessel, who turns 36 on October 2, at the league minimum salary on a bonus-laden contract would be tough for Sweeney right now as, according to PuckPedia, the Bruins currently have just $416,667 in projected salary cap space.
Let’s not also forget that the Bruins and Kessel didn’t exactly part ways on good terms. After scoring 66 goals and adding 60 assists in 222 regular season games and nine goals and six assists in 15 playoff games with the Bruins, Kessel requested a trade amid a contract stalemate with then Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli found a taker in then-Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and traded the disgruntled winger to the Leafs in exchange for a 2010 first-round pick (Tyler Seguin), a 2010 second-round pick (Jared Knight), and a 2011 first-round pick (Dougie Hamilton). The 21-year-old restricted free agent then signed a five-year, $27 million contract with the Leafs.
All three players the Bruins used with those picks were eventually traded by the Bruins, with Seguin and Hamilton gone before they hit their prime years. So, while it would be some sweet irony to see Kessel come back and potentially help the Bruins go on a playoff run, it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.