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On Saturday, Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke re-acquired the team’s second round pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft from the Chicago Blackhawks, ensuring that Toronto now has a first-, second-, and third-round draft pick. Normally news like this is fit to print only in Ontario, but the dealings of the Maple Leafs have possible implications for the Boston Bruins. Toronto is now capable of sending an offer sheet to any restricted free agent in the league, namely Phil Kessel.
The Bruins and Leafs nearly had a deal worked out on Draft Day 2009 in June, which would’ve sent Kessel to Toronto in exchange for Tomas Kaberle, but a mis-communication about the involvement of draft picks caused the deal to die. The Maple Leafs now have the salary cap space and the draft picks necessary to make an offer to Kessel.
“I’ve got nothing to say about any of it,’’ said Burke, when asked if he were making a play for the 21-year-old right wing/center. “Sorry, I’m just not going to go there.’’
Kessel, who is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotor cuff suffered in March, is reportedly looking for a deal worth $4-$5 million per year, certainly fair market value for the player who led his team in goals scored with 36, especially when the 11 players who scored more goals than him have an average salary of $6.5 million. In addition, the team who signs Kessel will have a pro-rated salary because players on the injured reserve – which is where the former fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft will find himself for the first half of the season as a result of his surgery – are not paid in full. The Bruins, however, are far from being able to afford any figure in excess of $1.7 million (some have it listed at $1.1 million) without trading at least one player – most likely Chuck Kobasew, as he is the only trade-able forward without a no trade clause in his contract – in exchange for draft picks or prospects.
The Bruins’ interest in Kessel has been limited, despite the benefits with which he has provided the team and the belief of Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that Kessel with such skill that “you don’t come across players like [him] very often”. The team offered Kessel a qualifying offer – 75% of his previous $2.2 million salary ($1.65 million) – at the conclusion of the season, which was promptly turned down by Wade Arnott, Kessel’s agent. Talks since then, if existent at all, have been reduced to a media war between Chiarelli and Arnott.
“I just get a little disturbed when they talk about us being cheap. Because it’s not about that. Look at some of the second contracts we’ve given – (Patrice) Bergeron, (David) Krejci. It’s not about that. It’s about a balance,” Chiarelli said at the press conference to announce head coach Claude Julien’s contract extension.
With such language and the previous shopping of Kessel on draft day, signs are pointing to a trade or an acceptance of an offer sheet. On October 1, the opening day of the 2009-2010 NHL season, the Bruins will lose the right to match an offer and will simply have to accept the necessary draft picks (a first-, second-, and third-round in Kessel’s case). If Kessel is not signed by December 1, right around the time he is expected to be completely recuperated, he will be ineligible to play for the remainder of the season.
However, with the interest coming from the Maple Leafs and from a number of other teams (rumors indicate the Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and San Jose Sharks), it seems unlikely that Kessel would go unsigned by then.
The Bruins are in an extremely atypical situation, having still unresolved the case of their leading goal scorer with less than one month to go before the season opens against the Washington Capitals. It is unconscionable that a team would not want to retain such a prolific player, especially when he is not the locker room cancer that Dany Heatley (also currently in limbo with the Ottawa Senators) is reported to be, and when he has shown the grit (which he is often criticized for lacking) to lead the team in playoff scoring with a torn rotor cuff after previously having overcome testicular cancer.
While reports from both camps were optimistic at the start of the summer, things have clearly deteriorated, and the trade winds are now blowing as strong as they have since early July. As a result, it seems unlikely that Kessel will wear black and gold again, which means the Bruins, who were very busy in the offseason, will have to somehow fill the 36-goal void left by the potential 40+ goal-scorer.