Phil Kessel’s iron man streak in jeopardy

Many Maple Leafs’ supporters believe Phil Kessel was more or less run out of Toronto by the media and a pocket of fellow fans as he was made the scapegoat for the club’s ineptness. After spending six seasons in Canada’s biggest city, the right-winger had the last laugh though as he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in his very first season with the team. Kessel hit the 30-goal mark four times in Toronto and scored at least 20 goals in his other two campaigns there and missed just 12 contests in his half dozen seasons.

Every hockey fans knows the speedy Kessel is a fine goalscorer, an underrated playmaker, and possesses a lightning-quick shot, but many of them don’t realize just how durable and dependable he is. The native of Madison, Wisconsin, who beat testicular cancer earlier in his career, missed a dozen games due to injury during his first season in Toronto back in 2009/10. In fact, they were the first 12 contests of the campaign and he hasn’t missed an NHL game since. Kessel has now played 528 consecutive regular-season games, which ranks as the 17th-best iron man streak in league history. Former Montreal Canadien Doug Jarvis is the all-time NHL iron man with 964 straight games under his belt.

Kessel’s feat is quite an achievement and his 528 games is currently the fourth-longest active streak. Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks leads in that department at the moment by playing in 704 consecutive outings. Playing in 500 consecutive games isn’t easy to do as just 23 players in NHL history have managed to do it. Former New York Ranger Murray Murdoch was the first to reach the milestone back in the 1936/37 season and he retired without ever missing a game during his NHL career. Glenn Hall played in 502 straight games and could very well be the only goaltender ever to hit the magic 500 number.

Kessel is just one of four active players who currently have iron man streaks of 500 games or more. He joins Cogliano, Keith Yandle of the Florida Panthers (551 games) and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks (542 games) in the fantastic four. Unfortunately for Kessel, he may not be able to extend his streak in the upcoming 2016/17 campaign as there’s a chance he’ll miss the start of it due to recent hand surgery in the offseason. The 28-year-old has played six consecutive seasons without missing a game, but a hand injury bothered him last year.

Kessel still managed to score 26 goals and 33 assists last year and then led the Penguins in the playoffs with 10 goals and 22 assists in 24 encounters. His playoff performance arguably deserved to be rewarded by the Conn Smythe Trophy, but his captain Sidney Crosby took it home as the postseason  MVP. Kessel enjoyed a productive season, but for some reason he was overlooked by the USA when the country named its squad for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey tournament. Perhaps they knew about his hand injury.

Either way, Kessel likely wouldn’t have been able to represent his homeland anyway since his hand hasn’t fully healed yet. Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford is obviously hoping Kessel will be in the lineup on opening night, but said he’s still not sure. However, he added that if Kessel isn’t ready for the start of the new season he shouldn’t be out for too long. Kessel took a bit of time to gel with his Penguin teammates as he had just 21 points in his first 37 appearances, but then racked up 15 goals and 23 assists in the final 45 games. With Kessel’s 528-game iron man streak on the line, the majority of fans are hoping the right-winger will be able to suit up on October 13th when the Penguins host the Washington Capitals in their season opener.