Wednesday, September 02, 2009


It's September 2nd. NHL rookie camps have already started. The regular season is less than a month away. And Phil Kessel's future remains very much in doubt. He's a restricted free agent, asking for $5M a year. This amount is way too much for the Bruins to pay and remain under the cap. They'd essentially have to cut another key forward in order to pay him.

Being a restricted free agent means that if another team offers him a contract, the Bruins can match it. If the Bruins choose not to match (they cannot match $5 million), they get compensated. If another team signs Kessel for $5 million, that team has to give the Bruins their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft picks. That's not peanuts. And the picks have to be the team's ORIGINAL picks. So if, for example, Edmonton trades away its 2nd pick in the 2010 draft, they can't even make an offer to Kessel.

And this is what Kessel's up against. Not only are few teams willing to take on $5M in salary (about 9% or 1/11 of the total cap), but few are willing to give up so many picks. The big teams like Detroit don't have the cap space to add Kessel. The rebuilding teams don't want to forfeit desperately needed draft picks.

Then there's actually assessing Kessel's worth. It's true he led the Bruins in goals, but he also had Marc Savard's brilliant passing to assist him. He only had 24 assists as a top-line forward, and a top-power-play forward. That's why he was 3rd in total points on the team.

He had the same amount of assists as PJ Axelsson.

Then there's who he scored against. Again, 36 goals, 24 assists, 60 points, and +23, those were his season numbers.

Against the Islanders (worst record in the NHL), he scored 5 goals, and 3 assists in only three games. Against the Lightning (2nd worst record in NHL), he had 4 goals and 1 assist. So 9 of his goals (25% or 1/4), came against the worst two teams in hockey. 4 of his assists (17%), also came in those games.

Against non-playoff Eastern Conference teams, he scored 26 goals, 13 assists, and was +16. So against the West, and the Eastern playoff teams, he had 9 goals, 11 assists, and was +7. That's not very impressive.

Of course, it's expected that good players feast on bad teams. But even Kessel's overall numbers are hardly earth shattering. He was 12th in the League in goals, 59th in points, and 180th in assists.

He is young, turning 22 on October 2nd, but that's not a major asset in the NHL, especially in the salary cap era. GMs want sure things, not potential, especially when $5 million is the asking price. Then there's his rotator cuff injury and subsequent surgery. More question marks. He's out until mid-October at the earliest, November at the most likeliest. And who knows what kind of player he'll be.

I understand his desire for the big contract. He and agent Wade Arnott probably assumed all year that Kessel would be getting paid big time. But they're going to have to wait a year.

San Jose is the popular rumored destination for him, but they too would have to cut some fat to pay him. Why would you cut players, ship draft picks, and spend money just for a slight upgrade?

The Bruins have plenty of depth at forward. Kessel's undoubtedly the best scorer they have, but they can score without him. Savard, Lucic, Krejci, Wheeler, Kobasew, Bitz, Sturm, Bergeron, Ryder, there's no lack of answers up front.

If I were Kessel's agent (and not a Bruins fan), I'd advise him to take a small, 1 year contract with the Bruins, try to score another 35 to 40 goals, and cash in a year from now, when there'd be no draft pick compensation, and no questions surrounding the shoulder.

But i think he'll take a small deal on an offer sheet from a team like San Jose, instead of a slightly smaller contract from the Bruins.


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