We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the blockbuster Phil Kessel trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kessel was at the center of trade rumblings heading into last summer, as the Maple Leafs entered full-on rebuild mode. When the deal went down, it ended a relationship that seemed fraught with tension.
On Sunday, Kessel, who was at the center of controversy during his tenure in Toronto, raised the Stanley Cup above his head, as the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games.
“He’s a special player,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said. “It’s hard to score goals in this league, and we wanted to add a goal scorer. When (Evgeni) Malkin got hurt, when we were going down the stretch and still with a question of who would make the playoffs, Kessel really was an impact player for us, and then all through the playoffs again.
“I’m so happy for him, because his years in this league haven’t been easy. Now he’s got his name on the Cup.”
Kessel, also left off Team USA for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, had 22 points in 24 postseason games and was in consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Sidney Crosby was eventually named the winner.
But Kessel was instrumental in the Penguins playoff success, playing the right wing on that speedy and talented “HBK Line” with Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin.
What did all three have in common, apart from giving opposing teams fits most times they were on the ice? All three players were traded from three separate teams to the Penguins within the last 12 months.
Together, they formed one of the most dangerous lines in these playoffs.
Kessel described the past 12 months as a “long year, but it’s the best year I’ve ever had.”
“I mean, it’s an unbelievable feeling, obviously it’s special,” Kessel continued.
“It was way heavier than I thought it was going to be. It’s so special. You dream your whole life for this.’’