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Phil Kessel in Vegas Feels Right – On and Off the Ice

Phil Kessel has signed a one-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. And it couldn't have come at a better time for either party.
Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel in Vegas just seems right, doesn't it? 

Frankly, Kessel represents what the Golden Knights were at their conception: a scrappy outsider written off by most, but whose prevailing insistence to march to the beat of his own drum took him to heights no one could've possibly imagined. 

No one expected Kessel, the coach-killing perimeter winger who didn't play defense, to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, much like no one expected a Golden Knights roster filled with castoffs from all 30 other organizations to march to the Stanley Cup final in its first year of existence. 

Now, the two are joining forces for next season, with Kessel heading to Vegas on a one-year deal worth a bargain price of $1.5 million. 

It's a marriage that could not have come at a better time for both parties -- albeit more so for the Golden Knights, who desperately need to recapture the magic that made them a league-wide destination in their infancy. 

Those days are further back than you'd think. That miracle run in 2017 gave the Golden Knights an insatiable taste for success, one that has deluded them in the years since into flying too close to the sun in search of Stanley Cup glory which, ultimately, has thrust them further down to earth with each passing season. 

Most of the plucky misfits that made up that Cinderella squad have been discarded in the same cold, callous manner that landed them in Vegas in the first place. They've been replaced by flashier names carrying heftier salaries. And when those salaries inevitably proved too hefty, they got discarded, too. 

Few can blame a team for pulling out each and every stop to win, though. Frankly, not enough teams do it these days. But the Golden Knights have hammered that method to the detriment of its own ethos, jettisoning fan favorites for nothing and overloading themselves financially in a way that has now painted a target on their back. 

Vegas went from the Island of Misfit Toys to the Galactic Empire in five short years of existence. Kessel arrives now to alleviate some of that. 

Not only is the 34-year-old still a very useful player in his old age, one whose presence will make the Golden Knights a better hockey team than they were 24 hours ago, but his folk hero status and reputation as perhaps the most beloved locker room guy in the NHL is precisely what this organization needs after the year they just had. 

The Golden Knights just missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, if you recall. They traded away a core leader and money-in-the-bank 30-goal guy Max Pacioretty for future considerations. Their former head coach spent last season blasting his injured goaltender to the media, and, due to the club's mismanaged cap situation, ultimately forced him to belay year-ending surgery in order to dress as a backup. 

That same goaltender will now miss the entire 2022-23 season recovering from those same injuries. 

Needless to say, the vibes are not particularly great in Vegas right now. But Kessel transcends vibes -- he takes in the bad and breathes out good like a quirky, deceptively skilled tree. 

"It's like he's a kid, still -- a big kid," explained Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jacob Chychrun of Kessel last season. 

"It's just great having him here. I know a lot of guys look up to him."

"You won't find anyone around our team who will say anything bad about Phil," added Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny, who revealed he would talk with Kessel more than any other player on the team's roster. 

"He's probably the most popular guy in the room."

Things didn't go especially great in Arizona last season, either. But Kessel's personality helped keep that team from crumbling from the inside, while his late-career shift from a pure sniper to adept playmaker gave the Coyotes an injection of skill that kept them somewhat relevant. 

Kessel will be surrounded by a far better supporting cast in Vegas. If placed in the top-six to start the season, Kessel projects to slot in alongside any combination of Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, giving whichever duo he runs with a playmaking winger who can open passing lanes while still acting as a shot threat from any area. 

On the other hand, the Golden Knights could also take a page out of the 2015-16 Penguins book and use Kessel as the focal point of a matchup-busting third line, flanking him next to the likes of Chandler Stephenson, Nicolas Roy, Brett Howden, or William Carrier in order to stretch their lineup and manufacture them added depth. 

Oh, and he's pretty good on the power play, too -- either unit. 

That's what makes Kessel so fun. For such a one-dimensional player, he brings options, handing coaches a useful tool whenever they decide to whip out the line blender. And in the hands of Bruce Cassidy, those options are more likely to be successful than under anyone else. 

Kessel in Vegas just seems like a perfect fit -- on the ice and off. 

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