There have been a lot of rumors lately surrounding the destination of free agent Phil Kessel. One of the teams he’s been hinted at going to has been the Minnesota Wild. They do have a couple of openings that need to be filled, but there are several pros and cons to Kessel being the player to fill one of those holes.
While it seems unlikely that Kessel will join the Wild, there’s always a possibility especially if general manager Bill Guerin feels he can make a spot for him. The free agent market is pretty limited and the Wild could still make a trade, but time is getting short.
Kessel Could Fit with Wild
Kessel is one of those players who is vastly underrated. He’s been in the NHL for 16 seasons and while it seems like he’s bounced around from team to team, he’s only been with four different teams in his career. He’s also been very successful throughout those 16 seasons winning a Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and two Stanley Cups.
Other than Kessel’s rookie season, he has averaged over 30 points a season, including his current career high of 92 points set in 2017-18. Even last season, he had 52 points in 82 games with the Arizona Coyotes. The Wild could actually use another forward with that scoring ability to help out their bottom six.
While the GREEF line has done well, it’s hard to say if Jordan Greenway will be ready for the season or not after having surgery during the offseason. It seems like an unorthodox pairing to throw Kessel on that line with how strong of an identity it has built between Greenway, Marcus Foligno, and Joel Eriksson Ek. Throwing an outsider in seems rather difficult, but it could use a scoring boost if Greenway is out. Kessel doesn’t throw a lot of hits, so trying to fit him on the fourth line instead may be a little difficult as that line relies on its physicality rather than scoring depth.
Kessel is a surprisingly fast player who can score quick goals. He sees the play unfold and knows where to be to catch a pass and one-time a shot. He also looks ahead to find an open teammate and sends a perfect pass for them to take a shot. While Kessel has a skillset fit for a top six spot, the Wild’s top two lines are pretty set with the exception of Kevin Fiala’s spot but that most likely will go to someone already in the system.
Kessel’s Main Issue
The main issue that will potentially keep the Wild from signing Kessel is his age. He’ll be 35 when the 2022-23 season gets underway and, while he’s still playing at a top level, his performance could go downhill sooner rather than later. If he gets injured, who knows how long it would take him to recover? Also, the Wild are trending towards the younger side and while adding him is just one player, his spot could be given to another youngster in their lineup.
The Wild are looking to continue stocking their roster with young players and keep up their fast-paced play. While Kessel is quick, he may not be the best fit for the direction the Wild are going in. When they first joined the NHL back in 2000-01, the Wild were an older team. As things have progressed over the seasons, they’ve started to trend towards the younger side. These last couple of seasons especially, they’ve focused on bringing up their young prospects.
If the Wild bring in Kessel, that could throw off the whole dynamic they are currently building of focusing on the younger players. Also, if they don’t plan on keeping him for long it could be hard to find another team to take him on, and then they’re stuck. As a result, they will have to have multiple contingency plans if they end up signing him to a contract.
Wild & Kessel Future
As great as it could be for Kessel to join the Wild, it may be best to pass on him unless, of course, they can get him for an extremely team-friendly deal. Something like one year for under $3 million, but it’s hard to say if he’d agree to something like that considering his last deal had him at $8 million.
Clearly, the Wild can’t afford that type of contract but with Kessel’s age, he won’t be landing one like that again. They also have many young prospects who are ready to take their places in the lineup. That makes it pretty hard to bring in new players, especially an older one like him.
When it comes down to it, the Wild aren’t the perfect fit for Kessel at this time, they have many other choices to fill the open holes. If this season doesn’t go as expected and Kessel is up for grabs next year, maybe they could sign him then and see how things go.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.