Golden Knights Make Puzzling Decision With Kessel Signing

On Wednesday evening, the Vegas Golden Knights announced that they were bringing in Phil Kessel on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The move generated quite a bit of buzz, given not only that the 34-year-old was the most prized free agent remaining on the market but also due to the fact he has become a league-wide favorite in recent years.

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Despite having to wait some time for a deal, it was obvious that Kessel was always going to have a home for the 2022-23 season. While not the dominant force he was during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins, Kessel’s 52 points on a very low-scoring Arizona Coyotes team last season proved he still has game left. That said, the Golden Knights are a very strange fit, as they failed to address their biggest need at this time.

Golden Knights’ Focus Should Have Been Goaltending

Just over two weeks ago, the Golden Knights received a dagger when they announced Robin Lehner would miss the entire 2022-23 season due to a nagging hip injury. Though the 31-year-old struggled at times this past season, he is still regarded as one of the game’s better starting goalies when healthy and was undoubtedly the best option the Golden Knights had as a number one.

His injury led everyone to believe general manager Kelly McCrimmon would be making calls to find a replacement. It was believed that Laurent Brossoit was also set to miss some time early into the 2022-23 season, though McCrimmon has since said he expects him to be ready from the get-go. Still, it seemed quite unlikely that he would feel comfortable with a tandem featuring Brossoit and Logan Thompson, but it appears that is exactly what his plan is.

Laurent Brossoit Vegas Golden Knights
Laurent Brossoit, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Recently, Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now reported that several front offices believed the Golden Knights were not in on the goalie market, and the signing of Kessel only helps further that notion. The reason this signing seems to rule out a potential goalie getting added to the mix is that McCrimmon simply has no cap space to do so.

As of now, the Golden Knights sit roughly $7 million over the maximum allowable cap, though that number will decrease significantly once Lehner ($5 million) and Nolan Patrick ($1.2 million) are placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). And, despite McCrimmon’s suggestion that Brossoit will be ready to go for the start of the season, there is still talk he could end up on LTIR for the early stages of the 2022-23 campaign, which would help create a little more space as he carries a $2.325 million cap hit.

While the cap situation involving the Golden Knights always seems to be a confusing and difficult one to navigate around, McCrimmon has somehow seemed to weave his way around it to this point and should be able to do so again. Instead, his main issue is relying on a Brossoit (possibly Michael Hutchinson to begin the season) /Thompson tandem in what is the most crucial season in franchise history.

Throughout his time in the NHL, Brossoit has proven to be a relatively reliable backup, though he has displayed a tendency to give up soft goals at inopportune times. He has done nothing to suggest that he is capable of being a starter at the NHL level and is coming off of a season in which he posted an uninspiring 2.90 goals against average (GAA) along with a .895 save percentage (SV%) in a career-high 24 games. On top of all that, he has just 106 career games under his belt, making him quite inexperienced.

Thompson, on the other hand, was able to get his first real crack at an NHL gig this past season and certainly made the most of it. The undrafted 25-year-old appeared in 19 games, registering a 2.68 GAA paired with a .914 SV%. He very much has the potential to become a number one goaltender in the future, though whether or not he is ready for that in 2022-23 with just 20 NHL games under his belt remains to be seen.

Logan Thompson Henderson Silver Knights
Logan Thompson during his time with the Henderson Silver Knights (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

While this duo could elevate one another in a battle for playing time, there is plenty to go wrong here as well. With several goaltenders up for grabs in trade scenarios, such as Semyon Varlamov, James Reimer, and perhaps even Jake Allen, one has to question why McCrimmon didn’t feel this was the better route to go down.

Golden Knights Have Surplus of Offensive Talent

What also makes this deal rather puzzling is that, while the depth of the Golden Knights’ forward group is certainly questionable due to their cap restrictions, it is still the strongest part of their team. With players in their top-six, such as Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, goals shouldn’t be hard to come by for this group. Sure, their third and fourth lines by no means looked outstanding on paper, but they were likely capable of holding their own when called upon.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel with the Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Had they been coming from a position where they had more money to work with, then this Kessel deal would have made some sense. He certainly adds some depth scoring and should prove beneficial to a power play that was among the worst in the entire league last season. That said, you simply cannot win in the NHL with bad goaltending, and while it is entirely possible one or both of Brossoit and Thompson have good seasons, they are undoubtedly the biggest question mark of a duo on any team entering the 2022-23 season. Time will tell whether or not McCrimmon made the right choice here, but as of now, it seems to be a very risky bet.