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.
Labels: Ian Palmer