The Dallas Stars of four seasons ago (when Jamie Benn won the Art Ross Trophy and the Stars still missed out on the playoffs) would have killed for the superhuman goaltending they got this season from Ben Bishop. The Stars of this season would probably commit crimes for the scoring power of yesteryear, but A) no one wants to commit actual crimes and go to actual jail and B) why bend the laws of space and time when Phil Kessel is apparently available again?
Kessel gets a bad rap for a lot of things. He was run out of Toronto pursued by rumors of a secret hot dog addiction (which was later debunked rather amazingly on Twitter). He’s been called lazy and accused of having poor conditioning.
Plus, there’s this:
Ridiculous as he sometimes looks, Phil Kessel is an asset to any team he lands on this season. In the last two seasons, he’s been better than a point per game, and he hasn’t missed a single game in nine seasons. Not one single game. Plus, did you hear that about his points per game?
The Pittsburgh Penguins did not have the best season this year, which isn’t startling analysis so much as an ugly fact, and it’s difficult to isolate one player in a season where so many struggled. As stellar as his point totals are, Kessel isn’t without downsides. While he has a positive impact in goals-for when on the ice, he has a negative impact on shots-for. Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan has expressed frustration with Kessel’s coverage in his own zone, particularly in back-checking, which is born out in the heat maps of shots against the Penguins with and without Kessel. (In these graphs, red is bad.)
The biggest trouble coming out of Pittsburgh, according to multiple sources, has to do with worries regarding team chemistry and their first-round exit from the playoffs this season. There are rumors dating back to his stint on the Toronto Maple Leafs that Kessel is a “locker room cancer,” but that’s hard to credit given the source. Pittsburgh is looking for a scapegoat, and apparently that goat is Kessel, who has a trade veto built into his contract and holds all of the cards.
The question for any team considering Kessel is whether the goals-for are worth his other quirks, and the obvious answer, since it’s goals that win games, is yes. Kessel’s 82 points this season would have made him the top scorer on the Dallas Stars, and those 82 points were somehow scored with negative possession and a lackadaisical commitment to back-checking. And, despite being a scapegoat for their early exit, he did have three points in the team’s four games of the playoffs, which is two more than Sidney Crosby had.
If Phil Kessel is indeed available, it would be irresponsible of the Stars to not, at the very least, kick the tires on a trade deal. They might not be on Kessel’s eight-team trade list but they might not have to be, and if Kessel’s going to be out the on the ice looking like this while scoring a point per game next season, he might as well be doing it in victory green.