After announcing and celebrating the multi-year extension to Jack Adams-winning head coach Claude Julien, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was pestered restricted free agent Phil Kessel's(notes) status and accused the forward's agent of "waging a bit of a media war," according to The Bruins Blog.
(Kessel, for the record, was not actually traded to the St. Louis Blues yesterday, depsite this foul-up spreading across the Web fairly quickly.)
Wade Arnott, Kessel's agent, has called the talks between the sides as "nonexistent" after what seemed like weeks of civil negotiations. Chiarelli wasn't exactly a fan of his candor, and took up arms this morning to enter the "media war": Speaking candidly about the economic conditions in the NHL that necessitate this stalemate, and how the future of those conditions make the negotiation more difficult at this time.
From The Bruins Blog, here's Chiarelli:
"Hey, if you're pushed toward the cap, you're in a position where you have to balance it even more. That's the position that we're in. I've said publicly and I'll say it again that I want Phil to be on our team. And I'll do everything I can do to put him on our team, within reason, with the balance that I'm talking about. If it means moving players, I'll do it. If it means matching offer sheets I'll do it."
Having followed this drama for a bit, Chiarelli's stated on every occasion that he wants Kessel on the Bruins. "If it means moving players" sounds like, at least to us, more aggressive than the GM has been in speaking about retaining Kessel rather than dealing his rights.
That said, Chiarelli's not exactly a happy boy about the way Kessel's camp is handling this situation at the moment.
From Matt Kalman at TBB, Chiarelli again:
"It becomes a distraction because the other party starts making it a distraction," he said. "I understand all the tools of their trade too. I used to be an agent. So you deal with it. We have a strong room, we've got strong leadership. It's just part of the game.
"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."
Bergeron has a $4.75 million cap hit through 2011; please recall that Krejci signed his three-year deal with a $3.75 million hit this summer as an RFA. Kessel's camp assumed he'd bank more than Krejci; according to several sources, they were thinking more along the lines of the deal David Booth(notes) signed with the Florida Panthers ($4.4 million hit for four years).
TFP's Dave Pagnotta thinks it's inevitable that Kessel's going to be traded, and the Bruins' cap crunch (Cap Geek has their space at $1.1 million) would seem to portend that unless Chiarelli moves bodies.
That cap situation, however, does bring up the notion of an offer sheet coming Kessel's way, which is something David Pollak of the Mercury News looked into:
Prompted by an email from Internet columnist Lyle Richardson (aka Spector) over the weekend, I did check and, yes, San Jose does have the requisite first- and second-round draft picks over the next two seasons that would probably be the price for signing Kessel.
That, plus the cap savings from their recent trade with Vancouver, have made the San Jose Sharks the flavor of the moment for Kessel's next port of call. Mark Purdy of the Mercury News bugged GM Doug Wilson about a trade for Kessel, and received the expected "no comment."
But why move bodies when the capped-out Bruins (a) can't take on any of the salaries the Sharks would like to unload or (b) can't match an offer sheet for Kessel without moving personnel?
If making a pitch to an RFA wasn't a violation of the old boys' club bylaws, the Sharks making a play for Kessel would make a ton of sense.