Former Gopher Phil Kessel picks the NHL version of a Vegas residency in the third period of his career


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Nov 11, 2008
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In the entertainment world, it is common for popular performers to stop touring at some point in their careers and set up a residency on the Las Vegas Strip, where fans can come visit and see them put on a show on a regularly-scheduled basis. Acts like Usher, Luke Bryan, Shania Twain, Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart can be seen there on a regular basis these days. And maybe there is a similar plan ahead for a former Minnesota Gophers star, via his latest career transaction.

He played college hockey in one of the game’s biggest media markets, and has played for a paycheck in Boston and Toronto, where the NHL media spotlight burns brighter than just about anywhere. Still, in 16 years as a professional, Phil Kessel has never truly overcome his unease with a microphone in his face. The somewhat shy, introverted off-ice personality we met during his one season in Dinkytown is still there, even at age 34 with two Stanley Cup rings in his possession.

In some ways, the last three seasons with Arizona were perfect for Kessel, as the Coyotes have become the NHL’s version of the witness relocation program. Crowds are usually small, and the NHL is notably down the media pecking order in Phoenix, well behind more traditional warm-weather sports like football, baseball and basketball. He could quietly keep racking up games played, keep making his mark on the nightly score sheet, keep earning a notable paycheck — one estimate has him earning over $90 million in his career to date — and do it without the pressure of the fans or the media that might be a bigger factor elsewhere.

So Kessel’s decision this week to sign a one-year pact with the Vegas Golden Knights and play in a market where the spotlight burns brighter than just about anywhere may have come as a surprise to some. But for Kessel, who turns 35 in October, it represents a chance to chase perhaps one more playoff run in the twilight of his career.

“I’m excited. It’s a great organization and a great team in a winning place,” Kessel said shortly after the signing was announced, in a Zoom call with reporters. “When you get a chance to play on a good team that wants to win, you’re always looking forward to it.”

Go Gophers!!

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