Recently, the spotlight was shone on NHL stalwart Phil Kessel. On Oct. 25, the forward broke Keith Yandle’s Ironman streak to take sole possession of the most consecutive games played in the NHL. He even celebrated with a milestone 400th goal.
He then went one step further on Nov. 17, when he suited up against his former team, the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel became the first player in NHL history to play in 1,000 games.
The winger has a reputation for being one of the most laid-back athletes in the sport. However, his records are a testament to his strength, stamina and determination to consistently perform at such an elite level.
However, does this make him a Hall of Famer? It is a question many have asked over the recent weeks. In this piece, we will take a look at if Kessel will be a member of the Hall of Fame or the Hall of Very Good.
The Arguments For Phil Kessel in the Hall of Fame
Two Stanley Cup Wins
So many greats of the game never won hockey’s greatest prize, yet have been immortalized in the Hall of Fame. However, it helps to have at least one ring and Kessel boasts two.
Not only that, but he was an essential part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ runs to glory. Alongside Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonnino, he helped the ‘HBK’ line be the most effective of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping the Cup find its way to Pittsburgh.
Whilst Kessel’s contributions did not reach the same dizzying heights in 2017, he lifted the Stanley Cup once again. A back-to-back win is incredibly rare and boosts the former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers’ credentials.
We have to start with the Iron Man streak. Kessel suffered a scary start to his career, after being diagnosed with testicular cancer during his rookie season. Understandably so, many players could not return from a diagnosis such as that.
However, Kessel did. Not only did he become an NHL star he was able to maintain incredible longevity and is now setting the record for games played with each passing day.
Along with the streak, he has always been an underrated talent. He is not the fastest and you would not trust him to defend. You would however want him to be there when the puck needs to be sniped or an accurate pass.
Throughout his career with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Penguins, Coyotes and now the Vegas Golden Knights, the Wisconsin-born winger has played a total of 1,230 games. This has led to a huge 404 goals and 967 points.
Kessel has been showing serious regression since leaving the Penguins. Well’ have more on that later. However, when looking at his history in the league, it cannot be disputed that he has one of the best stat lines of the salary cap era.
Strong International Record
Phil is not the Kessel best known for their international play; that would be his sister, Amanda. However, his record for the USA is nothing to be sniffed at. Kessel has represented the States in five junior tournaments, winning gold and silver medals in the Under-18 World Junior Championships.
He also has three senior World Championships under his belt. Team USA’s record was not great, never finishing higher than fifth. Kessel’s performances were never the issue, though. He boasts a record of 19 points through 21 games, with seven of those games coming when he was a freshman at Minnesota.
Kessel has also played in two Winter Olympics. In the first (2010) he took home silver, scoring a respectable two points in six games. It was in Sochi 2014 however, that he made a name for himself. The USA disappointingly finished fourth, but in six games, Kessel grabbed eight points. He was also named the tournament’s best forward and featured in the Olympic All-Star Team.
The Arguments Against Phil Kessel for Hall of Fame
No Personal Hardware
This is the big one. As good as Kessel has been, no major personal accolades will count against him. In his rookie year, Kessel did win the Masterton Trophy following his return to hockey after a battle with cancer. He also finished 11th in Calder Trophy voting. He has also received several votes for the Lady Byng, but his highest finish was only ninth place.
However, the Hall of Fame will not look kindly on the lack of any major awards. Kessel was never going to walk away with the Selke Trophy any time soon, but during his prime, a Rocket Richard was not out of the question.
Many will say Kessel was robbed of the Conn Smythe in 2016. Ultimately awarded to Sidney Crosby, he missed out by only three points. Had he bagged the award, he would have another strong argument to present to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for him, that is not the case.
Huge Dip in Form
Watching Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel is no longer, well, thrilling. His point production has fallen off a cliff recently and this is concerning if he has hopes to make his case to the selection committee.
A few seasons ago, Kessel should have been looking to hit 1,000 points before retiring. He could still do that, but now at 35, it looks highly unlikely.
Of course, two COVID-19 disrupted seasons and time spent on an abysmal Arizona side haven’t helped. However, he is still performing at the same rate with the high-flying Golden Knights. It seems that unlike other potential Hall of Famers, the 17-year pro’s production and skills cannot keep up with Father Time.
Will He Make the Cut?
It is a tough one and you can be certain he will not make it the year he is eligible. A lack of personal awards and a sharp decline in form will make it an uphill battle.
With that said, his Masterton was a huge achievement and a testament to his strength and determination, especially as a rookie. Few pros can claim to be a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner and it is unlikely his Iron Man record will be touched for a long, long time. His underrated international career must also come into consideration, as should his near-win of the Conn Smythe.
Overall? If Kessel manages to hit the 1,000-point mark, he should have a strong case. If, as predicted, he does not, the case will be somewhat weaker. However, all of his achievements are enough for him to pull away from the Hall of Very Good to the Hall of Fame.
Get ready Vegas, Phil Kessel is coming to town. 😁 pic.twitter.com/dH0ZdVWW5y
— NHL (@NHL) August 25, 2022