Is a Kessel/Leafs reunion a real possibility?

Published September 2, 2023 at 10:32

Former Leafs winger Phil Kessel generated a bit of a buzz this week when he revealed that he would be willing to sacrifice his storied ironman streak this season if it meant continuing his NHL career.

The 35-year-old has played in 1,064 consecutive regular season games, setting an all-time NHL record - one that may never be broken. In fact, the closest active streak belongs to Carolina's Brent Burns, who has played in 685 consecutive games. I highly doubt that the 38-year-old will make up the near 400-game difference that it would take to catch Kessel.

With Kessel showing a willingness to come in and out of the lineup as needed and playing in more of a 13th forward role for any interested teams, it left The Hockey News' Nick Barden to ponder whether a reunion between the Leafs and Kessel would be a possibility. While Barden largely concluded that a reunion seems unlikely, he did suggest that it is still possible, given the changes observed in Toronto over the past 8 years.

Kessel's comments following his 3rd Cup win would suggest that he's still not over how things went during his time in Toronto. For those unfamiliar with Kessel's comments back in June, he had the following to say:

"Takes me back to my Toronto days. You guys said I couldn't win, and now I'm a three-time champ. Remember that."

Of course, it's really anyone's guess what sort of a demand there will be on the open market for a player like Kessel. There obviously wasn't a lot of interest in the first couple of months of free agency, so what changes now? Well, for starters, teams are now well aware of the fact that the ironman streak is no longer a factor. But age, however, certainly would be - as would be Kessel's reputation for being a 1-way player.

Kessel, 35, is no spring chicken, but he can still fly and he can still shoot the puck. However, with so many teams - especially contending teams - putting an emphasis on two-way play, Kessel may not be a desired commodity, even if he is willing to make concessions.

The most likely outcome here, at least in my mind, is that Kessel will sign a 1-year deal with a bottom feeder, such as Anaheim or San Jose, and play the year out in hopes of putting himself on the radar of a contending team closer to the trade deadline. Kessel, having won 3 Cups, can still help a team in the depth scoring department. He is also a warm body with a ton of NHL experience, so if a team wants to pick him up for a playoff run specifically as a 13th forward who will only play in the event of an injury, that option is there as well.

I tend to side with Barden here. I don't believe the Leafs and Kessel are necessarily the best fit for one another at this junction. However, if such a reunion were to occur, I'd be thrilled to see Phil back in Toronto, if for no other reason than to see him mix it up with Steve Simmons (Toronto Sun) again.

September 2   |   273 answers
Is a Kessel/Leafs reunion a real possibility?

Would you welcome a 35-year-old Phil Kessel back to Toronto this season?

Yes10237.4 %
No10438.1 %
Only at league minimum6724.5 %
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