He may no longer be a member of the Penguins, but Phil Kessel will forever be apart of franchise history for his contributions during his four seasons with the team. Five years ago today, on July 1st, 2105, the Penguins agreed to a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring Kessel to Pittsburgh as part of a multiplayer deal.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie broke the news on Twitter and sent the Penguins fanbase into an absolute frenzy.
Kessel to Pitt in multi player deal. Done— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) July 1, 2015
You may not remember exactly where you were or what you were doing when the news broke, but you certainly remember the thrill of learning the Penguins had just acquired one of the best goal scorers in the game for a relatively cheap price.
Although Kessel was a major addition to a lineup that already included the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, his arrival in Pittsburgh did not pay immediate dividends. While the team middled on the playoff bubble, Kessel only posted 18 points in his first 29 games with the Penguins before Mike Sullivan was hired as head coach.
Once Sullivan took the reigns, both Kessel and the team found their groove and the rest is history. In four seasons with the Penguins, Kessel recorded 303 points in 328 games all while never missing a single game during his time with the Penguins.
In addition to his regular season performance, Kessel was just as solid for the Penguins in the playoffs. He was there for the back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, leading the team in scoring during the 2016 run and arguably should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Kessel made up the the ‘K’ portion of the famous “HBK” line alongside Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino in 2016, a line that played a crucial role in the Penguins dominating run through the postseason on the way to the Stanley Cup.
Following the team’s second title in 2017, Kessel spent his day with the Cup on the golf course and produced one of the best pictures in existence.
Less than two years after being castaway by the Maple Leafs, Kessel proved all his haters wrong and became a two time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins.
In the combined 2016 and 2017 playoff campaigns, no Penguin scored more than Phil’s 18 total goals. His 45 points (in 49 games) ranked third on the team behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who fittingly enough both had 46, just one point more than Phil. The next closest Penguin in fourth place, Nick Bonino, had 25 points, which goes to show that as legendary as Sid and Geno are — Kessel was right there with them over the course of those two magical years.
After winning Cups in his first two seasons with the team, Kessel and the Penguins failed to advance out of the second round in his final two seasons, but it was not because of a lack of effort on Phil’s part.
During the 2017-18 season, Kessel posted a career high 92 points along with a career high 58 assists. Only Evgeni Malkin posted more points and Sidney Crosby more assists for the Penguins that season. He also reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time as a Penguins that season, netting 34 on the year, again good for second best on the team.
In his final season with the team in 2018-19. Kessel posted a dead even point per game pace and hit 50+ assists for the second straight season. During the Penguins brief four game stay in the postseason, Kessel was one of only six Penguins to score against the New York Islanders.
Rumors began to swirl in 2018 that issues between Kessel and some in the Penguins organization were beginning to surface, but nothing ever came to fruition in terms of a trade that offseason. That did not turn out to be the case in 2019, as the Penguins and Kessel parted ways after a rather lengthy trade saga that involved Kessel rejecting a trade to the Minnesota Wild before accepting a deal to go to the Arizona Coyotes.
Regardless of how Kessel’s time in Pittsburgh ended, his contributions during his four seasons with the franchise are already stuff of legend and he will forever be an integral part of the Penguins history.
Without Kessel, the Penguins likely don’t have those two additional banners hanging from the rafters. He will be forever loved in Pittsburgh and rightfully so. What he did for the franchise cannot be understated.
Long live Phil the Thrill.