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The Case For And Against Re-Signing Phil Kessel

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The NHL’s Ironman saw his contract expire with the Golden Knights exactly two months ago. With just three weeks to the start of training camp, Phil Kessel remains on the open market. He’s trying to dispel one of the biggest question marks that would come with signing him, one the Golden Knights would certainly be weary of.

The three-time Stanley Cup champion wants to play again in 2023-24. But, the most significant detail is that he’s let teams know it won’t be a problem if he’s not an everyday player. –Elliotte Friedman on Sportsnet.ca 

For a team chasing a Stanley Cup, or in VGK’s case another Stanley Cup, that detail is crucial as the potential distraction it could cause may not be worth the added production the player will bring. However, with Kessel admitting he’s okay with breaking the streak to continue his career, it certainly opens the door a bit wider for a return to Las Vegas.

I can honestly say, I’m completely on the fence on this one. So, rather than choose a side, I’ll present both, and let you decide if you want him back or not.

The Case For Re-Signing Phil Kessel

The Golden Knights just won the Stanley Cup with a roster that remains largely intact. Despite not playing a majority of the playoff games down the stretch, Kessel was an everyday player in the regular season and started the first game of the postseason. He played in multiple places in the top nine, was a full-time option on the power play, and often found himself on the ice when the Golden Knights were chasing a goal late in games.

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Bruce Cassidy Has Provided VGK All The Answers So Far In Playoffs

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

In his first postseason behind the Golden Knights’ bench, Bruce Cassidy has been basically flawless. From coaching decisions to motivation to game plans and preparation, Cassidy has had the answer to every question asked of the Golden Knights and it’s a huge reason they’re staring at a Game 4 in Edmonton that could see them seize control of the the second round.

It hasn’t been an easy road this postseason either for Vegas. The decision-making process had to begin with a tricky one heading into the very first game of the playoffs. With Mark Stone ready to return to the lineup, where would he slot into a group that had been playing great hockey.

Cassidy opted to create a balanced lineup with three sets of high-end pairs anchoring each line. To say it has worked would be a massive understatement. The Golden Knights have used the depth to the tune of 31 goals in eight games including an incredible 30 from forwards.

The paired off lineup has helped players like Brett Howden, Michael Amadio, and Ivan Barbashev make major contributions both on the scoresheet and defensively. Even the tweaks Cassidy has made along the way have worked with Barbashev moving down to the 4th line in the Winnipeg series where he had multiple goal contributions.

Then, another tough decision cropped up when William Carrier was ready to play. Cassidy did not hesitate in making the difficult decision to healthy scratch the NHL’s iron man, Phil Kessel, forcing him to watch his first NHL game from the press box since 2009.

Next, Cassidy’s game plans for each series have provided the Golden Knights a simple style of hockey that has helped them be effective against two excellent opponents. Even when games have not gone VGK’s way, Cassidy has stuck with the plan of dumping the puck in and forcing the opposing team to deal with a heavy forecheck. Each of Vegas’ two losses have been erased instantly the following game with night and day efforts to the previous game in terms of style.

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Kessel, Vegas, T-Mobile Arena Ice Mentioned In 2023 NHLPA Players Poll

Every year the NHLPA releases the results of an anonymous poll given to players on a wide variety of topics. This year, 626 players participated in the 14-question survey.

As usual, Vegas and Golden Knights players are commonly found among the results. The strongest year in VGK history in regards to mentions in the poll was 2019-20 when there were seven mentions. This year there are just three, but they are a powerful trio.

This is the second consecutive year the question has been on the poll, and unsurprisingly Las Vegas has dominated both years. Vegas actually took a larger share of the vote this year getting 31.7% while it came in just over 30% last season. 193 players out of the 609 who answered the question selected Vegas.

A pair of familiar names make the cut on this one. Kessel was selected by 12 of the 448 players polled. He’s not the only Kessel on the list either. Phil’s sister Amanda was named among the female players NHLers would most like to play with.

Finally, the ice. T-Mobile Arena has always had a stellar reputation in this category. The question has been asked four out of the last six years and T-Mobile has been in the Top 5 each and every time. This year’s 6% is the second largest share Vegas has ever received, only behind a 4th place 8.7% finish in 2019-20.

Here are all of the resuts including Vegas over the six years the Golden Knights have been in the league. You can see the full poll here.

2022-23

Best Ice: T-Mobile Arena (5th place, 6%)
Best Road City: Las Vegas (1st Place, 31.7%)
Best Locker Room Guy: Phil Kessel (T-2nd Place, 2.7%)

2021-22

Best Ice: T-Mobile Arena (T-4th Place, 5.9%)
Best Road City: Las Vegas (1st Place, 30.6%)
Best Hair: William Karlsson (2nd Place, 7.9%)

2020-21

Best Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (2nd Place, 8.9%)

2019-20

Best Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (3rd Place, 8.9%)
Best Trash Talker: Ryan Reaves (3rd Place, 11.1%)
Worst Trash Talker: Nick Cousins (4th Place, 5.6%)
Best Golfer: Mark Stone (5th Place, 3.8%)
Best Visitors Dressing Room: T-Mobile Arena (2nd Place, 26.4%)
Best Jersey: Vegas Golden Knights (T-2nd Place, 6.8%)
Best Ice: T-Mobile Arena (4th Place, 8.7%)

2018-19

Best Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (4th Place, 6.5%)
Best TV Analyst When Retired: Ryan Reaves (3rd Place, 2.4%)
Best Trash Talker: Ryan Reaves (3rd Place, 5.5%)
Best Arena Atmosphere: T-Mobile Arena (1st Place, 42.5%)
Best Ice: T-Mobile Arena (5th Place, 4.7%)
Best Hair: William Karlsson (3rd Place, 5.7%)

2017-18

Toughest Player: Ryan Reaves (1st Place, 44.7%)
Best Coach To Play For: Gerard Gallant (3rd Place, 11.6%)

Cassidy Details Game Plan He’d Like To See On VGK Power Play

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Hello darkness, my old friend.

After an 0 for 7 night on the power play the Golden Knights have converted just one goal on 28 opportunities since Mark Stone got injured.

The units have been mixed up but the results simply haven’t come with. Vegas has slipped to 18th overall in power play percentage and they are in dead last at 8.8% since January 1st.

There’s a lot right now (on the power play that we need to work on). I don’t think the pace of our power play is where it needs to be, quite frankly. In the zone, we hold pucks too long. We’re at our best when we have quick movement, a play to the net, and then quick recovery. That’s just a mindset we have to have. We had it earlier this year and we’ve had it on the occasional power play and then it’ll disappear on the next one. -Cassidy

The Golden Knights spent this morning in the film room with a focus on what they’ve done right in the past.

We showed video this morning and showed pretty much all of our O-zone goals to try and define what we are in the O-zone. We’re trying to make seam passes against teams that are set in their coverage. We scored one in Montreal (all season), so we’re not that team, so let’s not keep being stubborn. In practice (we’re doing it) and it translates to the game, that’s not who we are. Let’s get back to who we are by getting it low to the goal line and attacking from there. -Cassidy

Cassidy spoke to the game plan he’d like to see the Golden Knights take on the power play moving forward. He said it starts with essentially a shot clock in the mind of the players that lasts around six to eight seconds. At that point, he wants a shot thrown at the net.

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New Look 3rd Line Balances Lineup But Comes With Usage Challenges

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

William Carrier is expected to make his return to the lineup tonight after missing the previous five games. He will not, however, find his way back onto his usual line with Nic Roy and Keegan Kolesar. That spot is being filled by another recent returnee, Brett Howden.

Carrier is instead set to play on a line with Chandler Stephenson and Phil Kessel. Not only is this a new line for all three, but no pair of players on the line has played more than one game with each other this season. Stephenson and Kessel played with Michael Amadio a few games ago against the Dallas Stars, aside from that Carrier and Kessel have never been matched, nor have Carrier and Stephenson.

What makes this line interesting is the vastly different usage rates we’ve seen from each player on it. Carrier is tied with Kolesar in taking 29% of their faceoffs in the offensive zone, the fewest of any Golden Knights. Kessel on the other hand leads all forwards in offensive zone draws, seeing 60% of his dead-puck shifts beginning in the O-Zone. Stephenson lands closer to Kessel at 55%, but he has had plenty of games where the majority of his shifts start closer to his own goal, something that cannot be said for Kessel.

Based on previous usage it’s expected that Cassidy deploys the 4th line (Howden-Roy-Kolesar) in the defensive zone quite a bit tonight, it’s also probable he’ll use Eichel, Cotter, and Amadio heavily offensively. The Misfits can do either, but Cassidy has always preferred to try and pull offense out of them when together. So, where does that leave the newly formed 3rd line?

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Golden Knights Continue Search For Right Combination On Third Line

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s a problem that’s common around the NHL, and it’s certainly not new here in Las Vegas, but the Golden Knights have once again found themselves searching for the identity of their 3rd line.

The top six, bolstered by superstars Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, and supported by The Misfits, have set the tone for the team both offensively and defensively. It’s clear what is expected of them each and every night and typically they deliver.

The 4th line, which has mostly been anchored by the pair of William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar, has been dubbed the “Energy Line” by Bruce Cassidy. Their expectation is to play a physical, north/south style of game in order to make life difficult on the other team no matter which line they play against. They’ve done exactly that the entire season and have even chipped in a bit more offense than expected along the way.

But the 3rd line remains a bit of an enigma. Is it a checking line? Is it a defense-first shutdown line? Is it supposed to be the main source of supplemental offense?

What is the identity of that line supposed to be?

Well, I know what I’d like it to be but you can’t make players something they’re not. I’d like to have the type of line that can play in any type of game. Forecheck game, check well in close scoring game, and secondary offense. We have some guys at the top of the lineup that are giving us good offensive numbers so we don’t necessarily need just an offensive line. We need a 200-foot, heavier type of game line would be the best way to describe it. -Bruce Cassidy

Even before the injury bug hit the Golden Knights a bit, it’s been a bit of a revolving door on the 3rd line. While each of the top line (Stephenson, Eichel, Stone), the Misfit Line (Smith, Karlsson, Marchessault), and the 4th line (Carrier, Roy, Kolesar) have seen at least 16 of the 27 games together, no 3rd line has started more than seven games together.

There have been nine different 3rd line combinations with six of them playing three or fewer games together.

In a perfect world there would be some similarities to the Carrier, Kolesar (line). Physical people that maybe have a little more offensively tilted game, but that’s not Phil (Kessel), we know that. It is Nic Roy, so that’s why we moved him there and if we can find the right left-winger to complement both of those guys then we’ll have something. But until we do we’ll keep trying. -Bruce Cassidy

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All Eyes On Kessel After Yandle’s Retirement

(Photo Credit: @VegasGoldenKnights on Instagram)

NHL defenseman and current Iron Man Keith Yandle retired yesterday after 17 seasons in the league. The 36-year-old holds the record for playing in the most consecutive games (989) in NHL history. Yandle’s stretch lasted from March 26th 2009 until March 29, 2022. As impressive as his Iron Man streak is, it shouldn’t stand as the record for very long.

Just eight games into the 2022-23 season VGK forward Phil Kessel is expected to break Yandle’s streak. On October 24th, Vegas fans will witness history when Kessel ties the record. The next day in San Jose, the newest Golden Knight should play in his 990th consecutive NHL contest.

What’s interesting about Kessel breaking the record in a Golden Knights sweater is the lack of connection to the fans and the city. The right winger played 982 in other uniforms so we’ll see how the Vegas faithful react when Kessel ties and passes Yandle. They may mimic the night Sharks forward Patrick Marleau broke the record for most NHL games played. Some fans at T-Mobile Arena were excited to see league history unfold, others only cared about the score. Much like Marleau’s record, the Iron Man streak isn’t a Golden Knights franchise accomplishment.

You know it towards the end of the year when you’re signing young guys and getting free agents out of college that they’re gonna give them a chance to play. You’ve got to respect that out of the business side of it, what they’re trying to do here. –Keith Yandle, retired NHL defenseman in April 2022

One reasonable question to ask going into this season is how many games will Cassidy give Kessel to extend his record? There may come a point where the new coach considers scratching the veteran for younger bodies. Assuming Kessel’s performance doesn’t dip, we should expect him in the lineup every night. Especially, if the Golden Knights are struggling offensively.

Back to Philly, there was no doubt Yandle hurt the Flyers performance last season. The Philadelphia Inquirer chronicled moments throughout 2021-22 when the organization could/should have sat the struggling defenseman. When the decision was made to bench and end the Iron Man streak some players were upset with management. Others understood that it was time for the team to come first.

I’ve seen it at different times, where sometimes older players can be sort of jealous. I don’t want to say that they are trying to sabotage the young players, but certainly they feel threatened by them. And Keith has been absolutely nothing but supportive, professional with those guys. –Mike Yeo, former Flyers coach in April 2022

Assuming both sides spoke about the Iron Man streak while they were negotiating a contract, Kessel should have plenty of games to pad his stats. Not only will he break the record early on, but the forward’s next goal will also be his 400th. However, there could come a time that Cassidy will need to re-examine his lineup, especially if the team is off course. We have all heard about the coach’s reputation for putting players in their place so it’ll be interesting how Kessel’s minutes or appearances play out. Hopefully, at that point, the team will approach Kessel and have a conversation about the direction of the club.

Heck, that conversation may never happen if Phil the Thrill is tallying a point a game. Either way, we know the Iron Man-to-be will come ready to play.

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