In the days immediately following his team’s first-round ouster from the playoffs, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said he needed to take some time to make sure the emotion had faded from the decision-making process before plotting out his offseason plans.
It’s a particularly good idea when deciding whether to trade winger Phil Kessel.
Fans who enjoyed Kessel’s quirky personality made him a cult hero while the Penguins were winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. Emotionally, they want him to stay.
Coaches who have tried to get through to Kessel over the years have a different opinion. They find his intractable style of play – offense first with little attention paid to defense or physical play – irritating. Emotionally, they want him to go.
Taking emotions out of the equation, it’s important to identify exactly what Kessel provides to the Penguins and whether they could be a better team without him.
First, there’s no denying he remains one of the most productive offensive players in the game. Kessel is one of 15 NHL players to average a point per game in each of the past two seasons.
While he stumbled through a 16-game goal drought in February, a narrative surrounding Kessel suggested that his production, especially at even strength, was beginning to slow down as he approached his 32nd birthday.
Looking at the numbers, that’s not really true.
His 15 five-on-five goals ranked 79th in the league. His 43 even-strength points ranked 35th in the league. That’s still top-line caliber.