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Is Phil Kessel worth $8 million per season?

Greg Wyshynski
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Phil Kessel has made it clear to the Toronto Maple Leafs that he doesn’t intend on negotiating a new contract during the season, which is a handy way of saying “let’s get this done now or, best case, you run the risk of watching my price climb higher; worst case, I walk as a UFA.”

So the Leafs and Kessel are in talks on a monster contract extension according to the team’s owners. TSN’s Bob McKenzie sees the price for Kessel at somewhere between $7.5-$8.5 million; Mirtle believes anything less than $8 million annually over eight years is “a deal” for Toronto.

(Clearly, without the burden of preseason games, Kessel’s had some extra time for math.)

Phil Kessel. An $8-million man.

There are six players in the NHL with an annual cap hit over $8 million: Alex Ovechkin ($9.539M), Evgeni Malkin ($8.7M), Sidney Crosby ($8.7M), Corey Perry ($8.625M), Eric Staal ($8.225M) and Ryan Getzlaf ($8.25M). All but Getzlaf have at least one 40-goal season to their credit; all but Ovechkin have a Stanley Cup ring.

Kessel, it will be noted, has neither.

Here’s what else Kessel doesn’t have: their linemates. Sid and Geno. Perry and Getzlaf. Ovechkin and Backstrom. Kessel has managed to put up some of the best offensive numbers in the NHL over the last two seasons skating with Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul (when healthy). Not exactly Anderson and Kurri there.

Cam Charron had a good look at Kessel’s value and his worth over on The Leafs Nation this summer:

I've looked at this previously as to what Kessel will be worth in the coming years, and it's clear that players lose scoring touch past the age of 27, including elite goal scorers. Kessel will shortly be starting his 26-year-old season, and Gabe Desjardins has shown in the past that that's about where players begin to lose some offensive production. Kessel quite possibly had his career year—his first time ever being above a point-a-game—in a shortened season.

It's worth noting that since 2009, when Kessel joined the Leafs, he's 7th among all NHLers in goal-scoring with 119 goals. Obviously it's helped that he's played the last four years in his prime years, but he still has more goals and points over the span as John Tavares, Bobby Ryan and Jonathan Toews. It's clear that Kessel is an elite offensive performer and that's generally what NHL general managers pay for, so it's not ridiculous to think that Kessel could cash in next summer with a ludicrously high pay day.

Or earlier than that.

Kessel’s been a point-per-game player for the last two seasons. He’s practically one in the postseason, too: Kessel has 21 points in 22 playoff games with the Boston Bruins and the Leafs, including four goals against his former team in the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. (That after another poor regular-season performance against the B’s, going pointless with a minus-4.)

Phil Kessel. An $8 million man.

Even when the numbers bear it out, it’s still a tough premise to accept.

He’s been traded by the Toronto media numerous times, as under-appreciated a player as you’ll find in that hockey pressure cooker. He would be an introvert making extrovert money. He would be a player that has yet to crack 90 points, 40 goals or win a major NHL award, joining a club that features league scoring leaders and Hart Trophy winners.

But the market dictates it. His numbers dictate it. And if the Toronto Maple Leafs want to hang onto a 26-year-old player who has performed at an elite offensive level in the last two seasons, they need to ante up.

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