July 21, 2009
Forward Phil Kessel(notes) has a squirm-inducing restricted free agent scenario playing out this summer with the Boston Bruins. He's pretty much shackled to his team by the CBA, his contract demands have kept him in limbo, and he currently has the negotiating leverage of Sacha Baron Cohen trying to produce a sequel to "Bruno."
Kessel's demands started high and remained that way as he watched every Boston Bruins free agent determine his own fate this summer. That included center David Krejci(notes), who acknowledged that his haste in getting a deal done was in direct contrast with Kessel in an interview with NESN earlier this month:
"I didn't want to take a chance, maybe like Phil is thinking now," Krejci said about holding out for a high price tag. "He's maybe going for a little more. There might be a chance he'll get traded. Hopefully, if they won't sign Phil, they're going to bring in another guy who's going to be good, and we'll have a chance."
With the signing of defenseman Matt Hunwick(notes) yesterday, the Bruins' salary cap picture is now in focus. Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reports that Boston has "$2,862,500 of cap space under the $56.8 million ceiling"; in other words, signing Kessel means clipping some salary from the roster.
Kessel was on AM 640 in Toronto yesterday (audio), and talked about his standoff with the Bruins when he wasn't boring the will to live out of everyone within earshot. (Seriously, the studio must have had ample amounts of Novocain and pliers with the amount of teeth-pulling the host had to do in their chat.)
"I have no clue what's going to happen at this point. I think obviously it's been a slow process but you never know what happens," Kessel said. "I don't think it's any closer than it has been in the months past or anything like that."
So what might happen with the Bruins and Kessel?
Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe had a terrific take on Kessel on Sunday, introducing four viable options for the player and the team. Along with forcing a trade (most likely in 2010) and praying for an offer sheet (that isn't coming), here are the two most likely options for Kessel and the B's:
Cut a one-year deal, accepting only a slight bump over his 2008-09 wages, and use it as a bridge to arbitration as of next July 1. If he popped in another 36 goals or more in 2009-10, he could ring up the Causeway cash drawer for $5 million per year or more next summer. Remember, the players who scored more than Kessel last year will average $6.5 million in the coming season.
Take something akin to David Krejci money (three years/$11.25 million), forget about finances for 36 months, and come to the table in the spring of 2012, ideally with a more mature and proven overall game.
Ideally, sure; but as one NHL GM anonymously told the Globe: "From the outside, I wonder if he'll get from the level of good player to great player. And great players are those who, by themselves, can lead the team when they are on the ice."
Has anyone seen an inkling of that from Phil Kessel? We're not even sure Brian Burke has, even when the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Bruins were talking about a Kessel for Tomas Kaberle(notes) swap at the NHL Draft last month.
Kessel addressed that near-deal in his radio interview with Leafs Lunch. Was his phone blowing up?
"Yeah, I was aware of it, but actually I didn't have too many calls or anything like that. It never happened, I guess. ... I watched a little bit [of the draft] but I try and stay away just in case anything ever happens," he said.
"It's obviously flattering whenever a team wants you, but you can't pay too much attention. You hear a lot of these trades and stuff and a lot it never happens. It's just part of the game. You get traded, you get traded. You go to that team and play the best you can."
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ... oh, sorry. I fell asleep and my tongue rested on the "H" key for some reason. Pretty sure a Phil Kessel book on tape could put Tylenol PM out of business.
Anyhoo, my gut tells me that Kessel is going to go with a short-term deal, toss up big numbers (as he's one to do in a contract walk year) and then try and hit the jackpot next summer. The Bruins claim they aren't going to trade him ... you know, after they tried to. Which begs the question:
What does Phil Kessel really think about his team actively and publicly shopping him this summer? Is it simply a case of economics, or does Phil Kessel think he's twice the player that the Bruins actually do?