September 06, 2009
TSN's Bob McKenzie sent hearts aflutter last night with analysis of a quiet little move by the Toronto Maple Leafs: the reacquisition of their own 2010 second-round pick from the Chicago Blackhawks for two other picks. From TSN:
The move now gives Toronto their own first, second and third-round picks in the next NHL entry draft, which is the prerequisite for any team that would want to submit an offer sheet on a top restricted free agent player this summer. This deal doesn't mean the Leafs will submit an offer sheet but it now allows them to do so if they so choose.
Since an attempt earlier this summer to trade for the rights to Phil Kessel(notes) of the Boston Bruins fell through, the restricted free agent on the cap-crunched team immediately came to many minds.
There are other RFA targets like Drew Stafford(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres and Brandon Dubinsky(notes) of the New York Rangers still out there (Matt Kalman sees Dubinsky on Burke's radar); but neither have been coveted like Kessel and neither would be the offensive difference-maker Kessel could be in that Leafs lineup.
But making a play for Kessel opens up discussions about the Leafs and Burke that go beyond his impact on the ice.
First, Alec Brownscombe of Maple Leafs Hot Stove has a great breakdown of Kessel and the Leafs:
Immediately the Leafs will have an undisputed top six player and likely a big part of the long-term solution to their long-standing dearth in elite wing talent. May I be the first to say "yes."
If the club could reasonably expect to lose 30 goals in offensive production with the losses of Nik Antropov(notes), Dominic Moore(notes) and the transition into a more defensive system on the back of a blueline unit now less geared towards puck-moving and rush-joining and more about crease-clearing and shot-blocking, Kessel could offer a significant piece of replenishment for the potential '09-10 offensive dilution (he will, however, be out of action until December and will not have a playmaking presence like Marc Savard(notes) at centre ice).
Brownscombe points out that Burke's acquisition of the draft pick simply puts the Leafs in a position to tender an offer sheet to a player like Kessel; in the end, it may just be a negotiation tactic in attempting to deal with the Bruins.
But if it's an offer sheet ... well, then it's another round of Brian Burke bashing for those who believe he'd be hypocritical for tendering one. Please recall his outrage over the Edmonton Oilers signing RFA Dustin Penner(notes), which led to a protracted feud with then-GM Kevin Lowe through the media.
With that history in mind, Bruins writer Joe Haggerty is already tagging Burke on Twitter if he goes down the offer sheet road. (Haggs has a good breakdown of Leafs/Kessel on WEEI as well.) On the one hard, Burke's been consistent about the convention of the RFA offer sheet not being an issue, so no hypocrisy there:
"I have no problem with offer sheets," Burke said, noting they are part of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement.
"If you can identify a player and pay him appropriately and make him an offer, that's fine. At some point, the deals you make, the offers you extend, whether the team matches it or not, impacts all 30 teams, including your own."
That said, in Kessel's case, he'd also be doing what the Oilers did when they poached Penner: Offering a contract to a player that a capped-out team (and a division rival no less) can't hope to match. From Damien Cox on ESPN in 2007:
Burke blasted Lowe for not giving him prior notice of the Oilers' intentions, and for the offer in general. But in the buddy-buddy world of the NHL, what he was really mad about was first leaving his team exposed and then having an opponent take advantage. It was about vulnerability. It was about Burke being caught, figuratively, with his head down.
In Burke's defense, any Kessel contract won't likely be well over market value like Penner's was, which was a tactic by the Oilers. But, at its heart, would a run at Kessel be hypocritical by Burke? Or just good hockey business?