NHL offseason grades: ESPN gives Coyotes an A- for acquiring Kessel
The Arizona Coyotes came into the offseason with a hope to acquire a goal-scorer to boost their lackluster offense.
With limited cap space, GM John Chayka had to choose between signing a big free agent or making a big trade to get that piece.
Chayka was able to accomplish that with the acquisition of two-time Stanley Cup champion Phil Kessel.
But perhaps the biggest news this offseason was the NHL Board of Governors approving the sale of the Coyotes to billionaire Alex Meruelo as the team’s next owner.
That’s why ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski believes the team deserved an A- for not only getting approved for a new owner but the Kessel trade as well.
Phil Kessel, acquired from Pittsburgh, is a potential game-changer for the goal-starved Coyotes, who averaged 2.55 goals per game last season (fourth from the bottom in the NHL). Kessel has had a shooting percentage north of 10.0 in each of the past three seasons and has scored more than 23 goals in each of the past six seasons. Yes, he turns 32 before next season and has played a lot of hockey. But his reunion with coach Rick Tocchet is intriguing, and like GM John Chayka said, the departing Alex Galchenyuk only has the potential to become what Kessel already is.
Kessel has spent the last four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and won two Stanley Cup championships in his time there.
He scored 27 goals and tallied 82 points last year with the Penguins.
The 31-year-old has not missed a regular season game since the 2009-10 season.
Last season, the Coyotes leaders in scoring goals were Alex Galchenyuk and Brad Richardson who both netted 19 goals.
Kessel has scored less than 20 goals in a season only twice in his career when he was a rookie (11) in 2006-07 and the next season (19) as a member of the Boston Bruins.
He has scored 20 goals or more since then, with six seasons of 30 goals or more sprinkled in.
The three-time All-Star could have an even bigger impact on the power play for the Coyotes.
The team ranked 26th in power-play percentage last season and scored a total of 42 goals.
The last two seasons, Kessel has scored 24 goals on the power play, 12 goals in each season.
He could be a massive help to the Coyotes in goal-scoring and particularly in making their power play more lethal.
But most importantly, Arizona hopes to break their seven-season playoff drought by bringing in Kessel after only missing the playoffs by four points last season.
In addition to Kessel being brought in this offseason, Carl Soderberg was the other notable change.
The Yotes’ other significant addition was center Carl Soderberg, acquired in a trade from Colorado. His 23-goal season is either indicative of him hitting his stride or an anomaly. Either way, he’s a free agent next summer.
The acquisition of Soderberg could be a huge help to the Coyotes offensively.
He was traded to the Coyotes after they sent defenseman Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche.
Soderberg played four seasons with Colorado and scored a career-high 23 goals with a 12.2% shooting percentage last season.
As Wyshynski mentions, this could have been a fluke for the 33-year-old who hasn’t scored 20 or more goals in a season before last year.
However, the Coyotes are getting a player that looks like he’s on an offensive uptick and isn’t a financial risk for the organization as he’s on the final year of his five year, $4.75 million AAV contract.
The Coyotes also re-signed restricted free agent forward Lawson Crouse to a three-year deal this offseason.
Crouse, 22, has only played three NHL seasons and scored 11 goals with 14 assists last season.