Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
Not being intimately familiar with the details of the Phil Kessel(notes) negotiations over the past few months, I suppose that it's a little unfair to just start tossing around accusations of foolhardiness and hypocrisy coming out of Brian Burke this week.
But I'm going to do it anyway.
Kesselgate officially ended this weekend when Burke and his new prized possession got up in front of the Toronto media and pledged their undying devotion to each other. Then started spinning like a couple of tops on an all-night crystal meth bender.
"I never asked to be traded," said Kessel. Sure, I get that. Instead, all he did was demand a salary not befitting his stats that he knew the Bruins wouldn't be able to afford without clearing significant cap space that could be better used on players that aren't lazy, resistant to criticism, have an acute allergy to the defensive zone and milk injuries.
But no, he never asked to be traded because saying, "I know you can't afford this exorbitant number so do with that what you will," is not technically demanding a trade.
Players like Kessel certainly have a role in the NHL -- anyone with a wrist shot like that would -- but at the same time, Burke is shelling out a lot of money for a lot of question marks and going against his own policy to do it.
First is the issue of his goal production. Kessel's goals per game have improved significantly since his rookie season, from 0.16 to 0.23 to last year's impressive 0.51, which was top-10 in the league behind guys like Alexander Ovechkin(notes),Jeff Carter(notes),Zach Parise(notes), Alex Semin and Tomas Vanek. ‘Course putting up 36 goals in 70 games alongside Marc Savard(notes) ain't so hard either. As Bitter Leaf Fan notes, Kessel's goal production (GF/60 minutes) drops 40 percent without Savvy running his line.
Then, and I think this is the most important part, is Kessel's shyness with the media. He could barely handle the quote-unquote media crush in Boston. His string of clichéd, one-sentence answers wouldn't go over like a lead balloon with the jackals in the Toronto media if he was just some kid on the team, but now that he's the Leafs' highest-paid player by close to a million dollars? Hoo boy, they're going to grill him. And he's going to pout about it.
His immaturity is also somewhat legendary among the Boston media types. Elliotte Friedman had a blog post a few weeks ago detailing just how immature Kessel was, complete with damning quotes from anonymous Bruin teammates. Given all the truculence and grit and anger in Toronto now, it doesn't seem very likely that Kess gets the kid-glove treatment he got in Boston. How he'll cotton to that will go a long way toward figuring out just how quickly Toronto has to move him to somewhere no one cares about hockey.
Third is, obviously, his shoulder injury. He has a torn labrum in his lead shoulder that will hold him out for at least 20 games or so this season and Kessel is well-known for not wanting to play at anything less than 100 percent. So that might be a problem as well.
All that being said, I don't think this was a bad deal for Toronto. For the price of a couple first-round picks and a second, they were able to steal away a 36-goal scorer from a division rival who's going to be just 22 years old by the time the season starts. He will be able to mature (ha!) alongside the club's other young stars-in-waiting like Nazem Kadri(notes) and Luke Schenn(notes) and so on.
And while Boston now has seven picks in the first two rounds of the 2010 and 2011 entry drafts, it's not as though Toronto is hurting for young talent. Tyler Bozak(notes),Christian Hanson(notes) and Jonas Gustavsson(notes), all free-agent signings this offseason, are probably better than most guys you can get in the middle of the first round, so hanging onto the picks wasn't and shouldn't have been of the utmost priority to Burke.
But what he did in signing Kessel to a $27-million, five-year deal was go against his own gripes about paying inflationary salaries to restricted free agents. Sure, he made a trade rather than extend an offer sheet, but the deal was made under threat of one, and effectively shorted the Bruins a third-round pick that they would have gotten in RFA compensation (not that they mind terribly, I'm sure).
More to the point, he was able to box out the Nashville Predators, who reportedly offered Boston a more attractive package but were disinclined to give Kessel the money the Leafs could and, eventually, did. Even if Boston had been willing to take their deal, they weren't going to trade for him only to trade him away or lose him to an offer sheet.
As for whether or not Kessel is worth $5.4 million a year, the answer, even ignoring all the question marks, is "probably not."
Atlanta Thrashers: At the tender age of 37, Slava Kozlov(notes) is likely to keep playing beyond this season. Said Don Waddell: "He's a guy that's going to play a number of years. I don't want to put the horse before the cart, but if he has any kind of year like he did last year there is no reason we wouldn't want him back." Keep in mind that Kozlov, unlike future Hockey Hall of Famer Rich Peverley(notes), put up 76 points last year despite only getting an average of about 4:30 of ice time per night with Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), almost all on the power play.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are now officially all about "accountability." So now they know exactly where to point fingers at when they miss the playoffs again. (Note: This rule does not apply to Sabres coaches or general managers.)
Calgary Flames: The Calgary Herald has a good look at what goes through the minds of bubble players as they try to impress the big club. On the other hand, this is Carsen Gerymn and Kris Chucko(notes) we're talking about, so the whole exercise is somewhat moot, isn't it?
Carolina Hurricanes: Avangard Omsk is saying they signedAnton Babchuk(notes) (the link is entirely in Russian by the way). Boy did Jim Rutherford screw that up. He offered the kid, who scored 16 goals last year, $1 million and would not, apparently, be moved. You couldn't get a forward that scored 16 goals to sign for a million.
"We have a lot of young guys and it's exciting to start this way," he said. "I don't want to sound like I'm trying to sell the game, sell the team, but to see young guys like (Ryan) O'Reilly, Duchene and (T.J) Galiardi do well is exciting for me."
He then added, "So come see these exciting young players as the Avs get walloped 5-2 every night this season. Go to coloradoavalanche.com to get your tickets now!"