Whether it was trading Evgenii Dadonov for a contract, or shipping out Max Pacioretty for zilch or Robin Lehner undergoing hip surgery that will shut him down for all of 2022-23, the Vegas Golden Knights have taken a few hits this summer. Yet, in uncharacteristically quiet fashion, the club managed to wrap up a trying offseason with a couple of sensible, low-risk moves that could help their push for a Western Conference playoff spot.
First, the Golden Knights dipped a little further into their long-term injury relief (LTIR) stash to add veteran winger Phil Kessel. Less than a week later, they addressed a major hole in net by acquiring Adin Hill from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round draft pick. Both late offseason additions loom large heading into a crucial season in Vegas.
Now, what do you know, but things don’t look quite as grim as they did not long ago. While losing Pacioretty and Lehner while gaining Kessel and Hill still represent a net loss, there’s plenty to like about the two newest Golden Knights and the role they might play on a veteran club with playoff ambitions.
Kessel Adds Much-Needed Offensive Depth
While Vegas likely isn’t getting peak Kessel, nor is he a washed-up player clinging to former glory. Sure, last season saw the 34-year-old pot a career-low eight goals with the lowly Arizona Coyotes; however, he also led the club with 44 assists and officially became the NHL’s active Iron Man.
Joining the organization on a one-year, $1.5 million deal, Kessel has a real chance to succeed with the Golden Knights. The American winger could play on the top line alongside Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, who would offer a dynamic fit for the 16-year veteran’s playmaking abilities and still-considerable speed. He fills an urgent need for the team, who saw 48 goals fly out the window this summer with the departures of Pacioretty, Dadonov, and Mattias Janmark.
There’s also the matter of a power play that converted at just 18.4% a season ago, good for 25th in the NHL. It should be noted that Kessel suited up for the club that finished 30th in that category, but he was the second-leading scorer among the group, with two goals and 12 assists with the man advantage. He also ranks eighth in power-play points in the league dating back to 2010 (from ‘How Jack Eichel and Phil Kessel will fit into Golden Knights’ power play,’ The Athletic, 9/08/22).
In return for injecting some added firepower to the offense, Vegas will provide the two-time Stanley Cup champion a shot at renewed relevance and a path to playoff success. Going from a perennial bottom-feeder in Arizona to a franchise with legitimate – albeit shaky – hopes of contention could offer a nice motivational boost.
Kessel acknowledged as much in his introductory press conference, throwing some shade on the Coyotes, saying, “It’s going to be nice playing on a team that wants to win.” While that may have been an unnecessary blow to a struggling organization, his most recent tenure with a successful club showcased that he can still elevate his game. Over four playoff-bound seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including the two Cup wins, he averaged 27.5 goals per season.
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At the very least, the 2006-07 Masterton Trophy-winner should enjoy an uptick in goals from 2021-22 and contribute to a forward corps that has thinned out a bit. Vegas probably isn’t getting the Kessel that reached close to the 40-goal mark several times, but his highly effective shot should guarantee more than eight goals.
Hill Provides a Much-Needed Option in Net
Look, I understand that the person to utter the phrase “our goaltending issues are solved, we have Adin Hill!” will probably be the first. But in a desperate situation with no leverage or exciting options that were readily available, the acquisition of Hill carries some upside.
Hill won’t turn 27 until next May and held enough value to prompt the Sharks to surrender a second-round pick to the Coyotes just a season ago. His 2021-22 numbers in San Jose (.906% save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average in 25 games) underwhelmed, but they still compared pretty favorably to Carter Hart, John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck, Marc-Andre Fleury, and, yes, even Lehner.
That Hill only cost a fourth-round pick and comes with a $2.175 million cap hit is icing on the cake. At this point, a training camp battle for the No. 1 job looms. Hill will likely get a long look in net, particularly if Laurent Brossoit isn’t ready to start the season following his own offseason surgery. That said, he certainly hasn’t earned the right to have the starting position handed to him, not when Logan Thompson fared better than anyone could’ve expected when he was thrust into NHL duty last season.
Competition between Hill and Thompson could be the best outcome for a challenging situation in the Vegas crease. It adds meaning to what should be a competitive camp and should keep both netminders on their toes. Regardless of who wins out on what will likely be a tandem role anyway, both keepers can insulate each other from the burden of carrying all of the pressure.
Look, neither Kessel nor Hill upset the balance of power in the Western Conference playoff race. These are primarily depth additions, but they also address areas of glaring need. For all the bloated contracts and cap mismanagement that has plagued the Golden Knights’ front office, smaller acquisitions like Chandler Stephenson and Michael Amadio have paid off. There’s hope for Kessel and Hill to do the same.