Should the Vancouver Canucks sign Phil Kessel?

Photo credit:Canucks.com / Jeff Vinnick
Tyson Cole
5 months ago
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It was reported yesterday by Rick Dhaliwal that the Canucks are ‘poking around’ on free agent forward Phil Kessel. 
Dhaliwal points out that the Canucks discuss Kessel and keep in regular contact with his agent. He further explains the extent of the relationship Kessel has now with Vancouver Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford and Head Coach Rick Tocchet from his stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Arizona Coyotes. 
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of the Canucks and Kessel. Dhaliwal mentioned back on November 15th that these two parties spoke and showed interest during the free agency period this past summer. 
But before anything, there are two important questions this management group has to ask themselves:
One) Can Kessel still play at a high enough level to succeed in the current playing style Tocchet has enforced on this team? 
Two) If the Canucks were to sign him, where would he play in the lineup?
Let’s answer these questions.

Is Kessel a fit for the Canucks?

Just last season, Kessel played all 82 games for the Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights. Playing in a predominant bottom-six role, Kessel scored 14 goals and 36 points — the lowest point total of his career. Once the playoffs came around, Kessel only played in four of the Golden Knights’ 22 games, registering two assists. 
Please be patient with me here as I nerd out the numbers provided by Quant Hockey.
The 36 points in 82 games played Kessel had last season averages out to 0.439 points per game. Of the 512 forwards to play a minimum of 20 games, Kessel ranked 235th in points per game, which is in the 54th percentile in the league. 
Considering he played a bottom-six role, let’s subtract the top 192 players (top-six players for 32 teams.) Kessel now ranks 43rd of all bottom-six forwards in points per game, which puts him in the 81st percentile of the remaining 320 players who played as a bottom-six forward across the league last season.
Okay, math time’s over.
Now, take these numbers with a grain of salt. Kessel hasn’t played since game four of the Golden Knights’ first series against the Winnipeg Jets. That’s 9.5 months since Kessel last played an NHL game. There will likely be some rust that Kessel needs to shake out after this lengthy absence before he can hopefully jump back into similar production he had last season. 
Sportsnet’s Luke Fox asked Kessel’s former teammate, Clayton Keller, about his former teammate, “Super shocked (that Kessel remains unsigned). I know he’s been working out and skating and hoping for a job soon.”
If true, this is an encouraging sign that the 36-year-old may still have his legs under him. The ability to be a strong skater is a necessity that this Tocchet-led system demands.
The stats provided by NHL Edge show Kessel’s skating stats from last season. 
At a top speed of 22.67 MPH, Kessel ranked in the 74th percentile of all NHL skaters last season. With 130 speed bursts of 20+ MPH, he ranked in the 82nd percentile across the skaters in the league last season. This is impressive as he ranks below the 50th percentile in skating distance. 
Kessel only ranks low in skating distance due to his limited ice time (12:48 per game), but he still ranked on the higher end of total speed bursts of 20+ MPH.
That’s not too shabby for an aging NHL veteran. 
If Kessel can return to the type of play that hockey fans witnessed last season, there is potential that he can excel in Tocchet’s system again. 
But where would he play?

Where does Kessel fit?

At 36 years old, it seems farfetched to believe he would find a spot in the top six. While his skating stats from last season are promising, they may not translate with the increased ice time in a top-six role. 
All indications would lead to Kessel landing a bottom-six role on this Canucks’ roster. Obviously, with how the third line has played together this season, there’s no room for Kessel. The only spot he may fit in would be on the fourth line — but who does he replace?
Tied for the team lead in 5-on-5 goals, the Canucks cannot afford to take Nils Hoglander out of the lineup. Sam Lafferty coming out of the lineup would be a shock as he’s proven to be a favourite of Tocchet’s this season, playing him in all game situations and even getting stints on the Canucks’ top line. Leaving only Nils Aman as the only logical replacement, but as a penalty-killing centreman, that might be a questionable decision.
Would Kessel sign to be an extra forward?
Kessel has the NHL iron-man streak of 1,064 consecutive games but has said he’s willing to sign and sit in the press box and lose his streak for a chance to play. 
One thing that Kessel does bring to this Canucks team that they don’t have an excess of is playoff experience. Only two Canucks players have won Stanley Cups (Ian Cole x2 & Teddy Blueger x1), while Kessel has three. Here are the number of playoff games played for this current Canucks roster.
While he only played in four playoff games for the Golden Knights last season, many players have spoken highly about how Kessel’s locker room presence was a major factor in keeping team morale high throughout their run.
The cost to acquire Kessel is potentially the best part of it all. To add a player who can contribute offensively in the bottom six, with the Stanley Cup experience he brings on what would likely be a league minimum deal, it’s the crucial value adds like these that contending teams make every year that help push them over the edge.
It remains to be seen whether the mutual interest is still there. But one thing that remains apparent is the belief in Kessel, the player. “There’s value in Phil. I think he can (still) play, 100 percent,” Tocchet was quoted as saying in a recent Sportsnet article.
So what do you think Canucks fans? Do you want to see the Canucks sign Phil Kessel as a depth forward for what hopes to be a lengthy playoff run?
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