Nazem Kadri has finally signed, taking the best free agent off the market as training camps approach. With the top dog now locked up, another player must rise up and take the title.
Who could that be? Well, none other than Phil Kessel.
But where will Phil the Thrill end up? Let's take a look at the three best landing spots for Kessel and just how likely he is to sign there.
2022-23 Cap Space: -$6,031,333
Pretty much every team in the NHL could use an extra top-six forward. And given how that's the league the Edmonton Oilers happen to play in last time I checked, they fit the bill.
Kessel is not the sniper he was during his heyday. But the 34-year-old has evolved into a shockingly adept playmaker in his later years, dishing out a whopping 44 assists last season despite being surrounded by a thoroughly barren Arizona Coyotes roster.
The Oilers could use a player with that skillset, namely someone to open up passing lanes for Leon Draisaitl in the event coach Jay Woodcroft plays him and Connor McDavid on different lines. If Edmonton is not intent on giving Jesse Puljujarvi another shot in the top-six to start the season, Kessel would be a perfect addition, fitting seamlessly into either of the club's top two lines while also significantly boosting an already-potent power play.
The hiccup, as it always is, is in the financials.
The Oilers are currently upwards of $6 million over the salary cap, and that's with Oskar Klefbom and Mike Smith's contracts already on LTIR. Some maneuvering will be needed, but Kessel in Edmonton seems like too fun of a possibility not to happen.
2022-23 Cap Space: $10,335,834
The Dallas Stars desperately, achingly need offense.
Do you want to know what Phil Kessel does best? Produce offense.
It's a match made in heaven!
Outside of the top line last season, the Stars' roster was essentially stuck in a massive offensive drought, grinding opponents down with a clamp-like system that simply fell apart in the event of a barn burner. Offense is the name of the game in the modern NHL, friends. Goals were scored at the highest rate in years in 2021-22, and the Stars were one of the few teams that failed to keep up.
Enter: Kessel -- long known as one of the league's top goal scorers and now a surprisingly adept playmaker in his twilight years, projecting as the perfect set-up man for newcomer Mason Marchment on a now-potent Stars second line.
The financials will be difficult to make work, however. Kessel scored over 50 points last season, giving him the right to command something in the $2.5-$3.5 million range on a short-term deal. And given how the Stars still need to sign Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger, arguably their two best players under the age of 24, that $10.3 million in cap space seems far less bountiful than it did at first.
If GM Jim Nill opts to bridge his pair of young stars to keep their AAVs down, perhaps there's some scraps left over for Kessel. And if there are, he'd be a great fit.
Los Angeles Kings
2022-23 Cap Space: $1,513,333
The Kings are ready to do serious damage next season, adding Kevin Fiala to an exciting young core that should challenge the Pacific Division crown.
You can never have too much depth, however, and Kessel seems like the perfect final piece of the puzzle to really push this Kings team over the top.
With how stacked Los Angeles' top-six is, Kessel might actually be best suited for the third line -- a role he thrived in as a Penguin during their first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. Kessel as a bottom-six playmaker and power play specialist is a frightening thought, and the Kings have just enough cap space left over to make it happen if they can convince him to take a slight pay cut.
Plus, Kessel gets to live in Hollywood, enjoying the beach weather while hiding in the anonymity of being a hockey player in Tinseltown.