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Chiarelli: Kessel ‘no longer wanted to play in Boston’

09.19.09 at 12:03 pm ET
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Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met with the media on Saturday morning to discuss dealing leading-scorer Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three high draft picks over the next years, and stated pointedly on several occasions that the 21-year-old winger “no longer wanted to play in Boston”.

Kessel and agent Wade Arnott had, according to Chiarelli, informed him of a couple of reasons why he no longer wanted to a Bruin, and privately gave the GM a couple of reasons why he needed a change of NHL address.  That spurred the B’s to trade away Kessel for draft picks in excess of the draft pick compensation for a potential offer sheet, and the Maple Leafs emerged as the only team with the draft pick assets and available cash to swing a trade-and-sign for Boston’s restricted free agent.

One of those reasons behind Kessel’s desire to leave is believed to be B’s coach Claude Julien’s “tough love” relationship with him over their two years together. Some believe that Kessel never forgave the coach for benching him during his first playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and preaching the importance of a two-way game over simply being a glorified floater on the ice. Kessel scored 36 goals and was a +23 during his breakout season with the Black and Gold last winter, and much of that on-ice success can be traced back to Julien’s “no soft play allowed” coaching style.

“He had his best season under this coach. Enough said on that,” Chiarelli said of Kessel and Julien. “We stress defense first. We stress competitiveness. Having said all that, what were we, first or second in the league in goals scored? And he had 36, 37 goals? Got him a nice raise.”

The B’s coach, for his part, didn’t get all soft and fuzzy on the relationship he had with a slow-to-mature Kessel during their two seasons together in Boston, but he also didn’t feel like the player/coach dynamic was a big factor in the disconnect between Kessel and the Bruins. In his mind, the coach had done everything possible to make things work for both the player and the hockey club.

“I even told him in a conversation that I didn’t get a (salary) bonus for making him into a bad player. Everything I did was to try and make him a better player, and I think that message was understood,” said Julien. “I think last year his season proved that. He seemed to understand the concept of our team, and besides the 36 goals he was a + player. I feel good personally that I did my best to make him the best player I could, and the rest of that stuff has nothing to do with me.

“I’m not going to sugercoat this. He was no different than any other player that you deal with at times. You never have smooth relationships because there’s challenges along the way. What you need to do as a coach is to convince those guys and make them understand and believe that this is what you need to do to be the best team possible. This is what you need to be the best player possible as well. We all know Phil has always grown up as a superstar player, and those guys are a bit of a bigger challenge. But I can tell  you last year there were no issues with him resisting, and there shouldn’t have been because his season proved that it was very successful.” 

Chiarelli addressed the addition of the draft picks and the options that it provides the team with $1.7 million under the salary cap. The swap gives the B’s a grand total of five draft picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft (two first-rounders and three second-rounders), and affords them plenty of assets should they need a particular player at this season’s trade deadline. The Nashville Predators were the other team seriously in on Kessel and a deal with them would have centered on affordable, young prospects (Ryan Ellis, Jon Blum, Colin Wilson) more than draft picks. But no other team — aside from Brian Burke’s well-heeled Maple Leafs – was willing to pay the 21-year-old $5.4 million a year for four years of restricted free agency and one year of UFA status from Kessel.

In so many ways this move by the Bruins smacks of a New England Patriots-style manuever where there was a particular value on a player, and the B’s front office fortified their long-term future once Toronto’s contract offer shot up into the hockey stratosphere. Many of the same factors and beliefs that were at play in the Richard Seymour deal earlier this month are now rearing up on Causeway Street.

Chiarelli added that he could have matched a potential offer sheet from Toronto and then stored Phil Kessel on LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) for the entirety of the regular season if the B’s front office felt it was necessary. That would have been a largely punitive move toward the player, and would have forced the B’s to clear off enough space for his gigantic raise in salary.

Chiarelli surely would have been forced to trade off an Andrew Ference or a Chuck Kobasew — or perhaps Michael Ryder – simply to squeeze Kessel’s $5.4 million under the salary cap. That’s not even broaching the contractual decisions that await Chiarelli next season when Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Marc Savard are all looking for new deals. None of his other available options seemed prudent or feasible once Chiarelli viewed the Kessel situation in totality.

“At the end of the day, we want players that want to be here,” said Chiarelli, who also said the perceived threat of the offer sheet played prominently into the eventual trade. “I know this player is a good player. Obviously he is. He can skate and he can shoot the puck. But we want players that want to be here, and we want to grow the team with those type of players. This isn’t about — and I know the history here — but this isn’t about frugality. There was some significant offers made, and there was little to no attempt to negotiate from the other side.

“Phil’s agent gave me a couple of reasons,” added Chiarelli when asked if he knew why Kessel wanted out of Boston. “I was surprised. I don’t know if really there were other reasons. He has that right as a restricted free agent and he can choose (where he signs). It’s all part of this new CBA whether it’s restricted free agency or unrestricted free agency, it comes earlier and arbitration comes earlier so (a player’s) mobility and choice of location comes earlier.”

There were an overflow of “it’s a business” type quotes from the Bruins players in the aftermath of the Kessel deal, but interesting viewpoints from team Captain Zdeno Chara and close friend Blake Wheeler came to the fore. Several times  during their three years together,  frustration cropped up with Chara toward the youngster’s game, and then bubbled over in practice.

The towering defenseman hinted afterwards that the young sniper still has a few things to learn about being a successful player in the NHL, and some of it simply comes down to a commitment toward off-ice training and improvements to his game. One imagines that Chara will teach Kessel a few of these painful lessons the first time he ventures into the corners of the TD Garden ice decorated in a Maple Leafs sweater.

“We all know he’s a young, skilled player. When you have young players like that – and not just young players but even older players — you have to realize that you can learn something every day, as they say,” said Chara when asked if he had moments of frustration with #81 during his time in Boston. “He has to realize that learning is a part of the game, and sometimes it’s a little easier and sometimes it’s a little bit harder.” 

While Chara said he hadn’t spoken with Kessel at all, Wheeler still chats regularly on the phone with his former University of Minnesota teammate “3 or 4 times a week” and never got the impression that Kessel was quite so dead-set about not coming back to the Bruins.

“Our conversations were never too  much about hockey or the business aspect of it. It was more like ‘whatever happens, happens,” said Wheeler. “We never had that particular conversation. At the end of the day, maybe, if he had to pick he would have wanted to be here (in Boston). But it just didn’t work out.”

Read More: Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,

Kessel Traded To Leafs for draft picks

09.18.09 at 9:59 pm ET
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Phil Kessel finally has found a new home after a protracted summer of fruitless negotiations with the Bruins as a restricted free agent, and landed in Toronto as part of a much-discussed deal that sent three high draft picks back to Boston.  Late Friday night, the Bruins confirmed the deal, which had been reported as a done deal on both TSN and ESPN earlier in the evening. The Bruins scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Saturday at the TD Garden for Boston GM Peter Chiarelli to discuss the bold, but not unexpected, move.

The Bruins are set to receive Toronto’s first- and second-round draft pick in 2010, and the Leafs’ first-round pick in 2011. With only $1.7 million worth of room under the salary cap, there was a distinct limit on potential position players coming back to Boston in the deal — and in the end there wasn’t a single prospect or established player sent to the B’s in exchange for a 21-year-old sharpshooter that led the team with 36 goals scored last season.

TSN reported that Kessel agreed to a five-year, $27 million contract with the Maple Leafs, which amounts to $5.4 million per season in average salary and in a cap hit to the Maple Leafs. Kessel had denied that he was looking for a $5 million per season contract earlier this summer while speaking with reporters, but the youngster earned that and then some from Toronto GM Brian Burke. Amazingly, Kessel becomes the highest paid player with the biggest salary cap hit on a Maple Leafs team in desperate need of scoring — and makes nearly $1 million more per season than defenseman Mike Komisarek’s $4.5 million per season.

WEEI.com first reported the schism between Kessel and the Bruins in negotiations several weeks ago, and the young goal-scorer reportedly steered a trade to Toronto by refusing to entertain a contract with any of the other potential trading partners for the Bruins. The Nashville Predators publicly voiced interest in Kessel, but the young sniper was determined to find a landing spot for himself in Toronto.

The question now becomes how an introverted young hockey superstar, known to shun the spotlight, will deal with the heightened scrutiny and attention he’s sure to receive as the new face of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kessel will be Toronto’s highest-paid player at $5.4 million per year, and — as such — will be labeled as the savior for a downtrodden hockey franchise looking to Burke for a way out of the Northeast Division cellar. Kessel has never dealt with the pressure of being “The Man” in a hockey-crazed environment like Toronto, and there are some legitimate questions how he’ll handle the added attention.

Both teams are rolling the dice here. The B’s are keeping the rest of their team intact amid salary cap limitations, and banking that Kessel will never become a game-changing 50-goal scorer with the Maple Leafs. If that happens, then the Bruins could regret the move for years to come. The Maple Leafs are gambling that the 21-year-old hockey wunderkind is just growing into his fast skating speed and deadly wrist shot, and Kessel will turn into the dynamic offensive force Toronto was missing on their roster. 

The 21-year-old winger led the Bruins last season with 36 goals, and he added 24 assists to total a career-high 60 points in 70 games. The return to full health of left wing Marco Sturm from left knee surgery along with continued offensive improvement for Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic and David Krejci will off-set Kessel’s offensive productuon in the minds of B’s executives, but none of those players have the youngster’s set of scoring tools. His game-breaking ability can’t be duplicated by anybody else on the roster, and that’s certainly a factor that looms large if the B’s go through offensive struggles during the regular season.

Kessel was the team’s third-leading scorer in the playoffs, collecting six goals and five assists in 11 games. In fact, throughout his B’s career Kessel was a point-per-game player in the playoffs with 15 total points in 15 playoff games over the last two seasons. But the young forward clashed with B’s coach Claude Julien over his willingness to always play the kind of impassioned two-way hockey that the Bruins coach demands, and was benched for three games during the 2007-08 playoffs.

Kessel, drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, ends his Bruins career with 126 points on 66 goals and 60 assists in 222 regular-season games.

Kessel, who had offseason rotator cuff and labrum surgery and is expected to be sidelined at least until November, overcame testicular cancer in 2006, his rookie season in the NHL. In 2007, the Wisconsin native was awarded the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey. Kessel also missed 12 games with a bout of mononucleosis and the shoulder injury last season.

Read More: Brian Burke, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,

Report: Kessel is steering toward a Maple Leafs trade

09.18.09 at 10:16 am ET
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are the first choice as a landing spot for B’s winger Phil Kessel, according to a TSN report by Bob McKenzie, and could aggressively come at the Bruins with an offer sheet by this weekend if an agreeable trade isn’t completed. The report underscores genuine interest in Kessel on the part of the Nashville Predators and a desire for the B’s to ship the 21-year-old scorer off to the Western Conference if all things were equal, but the young sniper is reportedly steering a deal exclusively toward Toronto.

The reports paint a picture of Kessel in a cat-bird position of being able to refuse any other contract offers from other teams so long as the Maple Leafs are interested in his sniping services, and estimates that the B’s restricted free agent is in line to cash in on an offer sheet from the Maple Leafs in the neighborhood of five or six years at an annual cap hit of $5.5 million. That’s a healthy step up from the previous estimates that the young forward was looking for a pact of  roughly $4.5 million per season, but speaks to just how badly Toronto needs some offensive punch.

The Boston Globetossed out a potential three-way deal between the Rangers, Bruins and Leafs that would net the B’s draft picks and equally unsigned RFA Brandon Dubinsky, but not sure that’s anything more than some creative spit-balling. It would involve a lot of moving parts to get three teams moving onto the same page this close to the regular season.

A Leafs/Bruins trade has been centered largely upon draft picks during multiple conversations between Toronto GM Brian Burke and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, but the talks have also also included several young, cost-effective players possibly being sent Boston’s way during a potential deal.

Former UVM skater Viktor Stalberg is one intriguing forward prospect that caught the eye of more than one Bruins player during Wednesday night’s preseason game at the Air Canada Centre. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the former Catamounts forward included in part of a package that already includes multiple draft picks in excess of the offer sheet compensation required to potential sign Kessel (a first round pick, a second round pick and a third round pick).

By all accounts Kessel and agent Wade Arnott are now steering the USS Kessel straight toward Toronto and seem to be locking in on Boston’s Northeast Division rival while holding the requisite leverage that they could simply sign an offer sheet with Toronto should Chiarelli trade him anywhere else. That threat takes on added significance with so many teams so close to finalizing their salary cup numbers and finishing player payroll budgets just shy of the Oct. 1 season-opening deadline to get under the $56.8 million cap.

One cavaet that the Kessel camp should consider carefully before pushing so strongly for a long and prosperous deal with the Maple Leafs: Kessel is significantly Garbo-esque when it comes to dealing with the pressure and expectations from a good-sized media market like Boston, and playing under the the raised pressure and super-sized scrutiny synonymous with the Maple Leafs jersey would be taking it to a much higher level.

The 21-year-old sniper will be paid like a sniping savior for the huddled and weary masses of Leafs Nation, and he isn’t yet equipped with the tools to deal with those kinds of lofty expectations. It could get ugly if Kessel underwhelms while coming back from a shoulder injury, or if his sometimes softer-side-of-Sears approach clashes with the dynamically stern duo of Ron Wilson and Brian Burke. By all accounts Kessel seems hell-bent on a final destination of Toronto, but this could be a classic case of “be careful what you ask for” when the young skater finally gets it.

Interesting comments from B’s coach Claude Julien speaking during the first days of camp about the work put in over the summer by Blake Wheeler. The second-year player put in a great deal of work in the weight room gaining 15 pounds of muscle, and appears on the verge of some very good things working toward a potential spot on the top line with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic.

Julien began the answer addressing Wheeler’s impressive work, but also seemed to provide some pretty interesting comments about where the disconnect might have been with a rare scoring talent like Phil Kessel. The 21-year-old winger made the Bruins team during his first year of pro hockey in 2006-07 under the structurally-challenged regime of Dave Lewis, and developed some bad habits amid an undesirable, losing atmosphere at a crucial point in the young hockey player’s development.  

“The one thing that really played in Blake’s favor was that he had the opportunity to play on a team with a successful regular season,” said Julien.  “When you win games ‘€” and see what it takes to play on a successful team that wins games on a night-in, night out basis ‘€” then you’re learning properly.

“Not everybody has the opportunity to be put into those [winning] situations, and you can play a lot ‘€” but you’re playing for a team that’s struggling at the bottom of the standings. It doesn’t mean that you’re growing in the right environment. [Blake] was able to [learn properly], and I think that’s an advantage he had over other players.” 

Hmmm. I wonder who the “other player” is?

Read More: Brian Burke, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,

High Expectations At ‘State Of The Bruins’

09.17.09 at 10:55 pm ET
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Bruins hockey used to be the sport in Boston. Before the Celtics dynasty, Red Sox fever and Patriots Super Bowl runs, the spoked-B was the name of the game in the Hub.

Perhaps it’s on its way to being so again.

About 2,700 showed up at TD Garden Thursday night for the ‘€œState of the Bruins’€ town hall forum, where season ticket holders were allowed to hold court directly with Bruins owners, management and players. The forum panel consisted of coach Claude Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli, vice president Cam Neely, owner Jeremy Jacobs and his son, principal owner Charlie Jacobs. Along for the ride were Bruins stalwarts Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron as well as new defenseman Derek Morris.

The theme of the night?

High expectations.

Before the start of the forum, a three-minute video was played on the Garden scoreboard of the 2008-09 Bruins squad that won the Northeast division, the regular-season Eastern Conference crown and a playoff series for the first time in 10 years. It is just a taste of what Hub hockey fans have been craving, and the men on the stage Thursday evening could not agree more.

“We have higher expectations. But that is what we want, high expectations,” Neely said during the discussion.

Bergeron expressed that last season was left with some “unfinished business” while Chiarelli said it had a “hollow feeling.” The Bruins want to drive toward a Stanley Cup and the fans, if the attendance Thursday night was any indicator, will push them hard all year to quench that thirst for success.

“The message I got from just about everybody in management, and I share, is that we have higher expectations this year and we want to deliver,” Charlie Jacobs said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Bruins, Charlie Jacobs, Derek Morris,

Julien: ‘pretty sure that Savard is 100 percent’

09.17.09 at 2:11 pm ET
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Marc Savard has yet to appear in either of the first two preseason Bruins games, but B’s coach Claude Julien declared the No. 1 center as 100 percent after battling through a left knee issue in the first few days of training camp. Julien wouldn’t say when Savard will appear in a preseason game — the B’s play Saturday afternoon at home against the Rangers and Sunday night against the Canadiens in Quebec City — but confirmed that it’s now a coaching decision rather than a choice left up to the trainers.

Savard said that part of his goal heading into this season was to shed a few pounds and be a bit lighter and quicker on his skates, and he underwent a long-distance running and sprinting program that saw him run 4-6 miles four or five days a week. Warning bells were sounded when Savard needed to leave the ice early on the first day of training camp due to a little knee soreness, but the reports of it being anything serious were greatly exaggerated. 

“It’s just one of those maintenance things because I’ve  been skating hard on it,” said Savard of the left knee. “I want to get in (to a game). There’s always things in the real games that you can’t do in practice.”

The center has looked sleeker on the frozen sheet, certainly, but perhaps all of the hard work caused a little of the left knee discomfort at the beginning of camp. Either way, both Savard and Julien say that the 32-year-old center is ready to drop into game action at this point in training camp.

Savard’s motivation is a good thing to hear at this point in camp, and there shouldn’t any shortage of reasons for the playmaking center to come up with his best season as a Bruins player. He’s in a contract year with his four-year, $20 million set to expire after this season, and he’s already put it out there that this campaign is a resume tape of sorts for the Team Canada Olympic decision-makers this fall.

“We’ll see what kind of lineup I decide on,” said Julien of Savard’s chances of playing this weekend. “I don’t think it’s for any other reason than me picking out my lineup. It’s a choice of mine more than anything else. In Savvy’s case, I’m pretty sure he’s 100 percent. So it’s just a matter of when we decide to put him in.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard,

Report: Predators have submitted offer for Kessel

09.17.09 at 1:06 pm ET
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The Nashville Predators have made a formal offer to the Bruins for 21-year-old sniper Phil Kessel, according to a report in the Tennessean, and that offer included draft picks and young prospects. Preds GM Dave Poile confirmed the report with the newspaper, and also handicapped his team’s chances against offers from the Toronto Maple Leafs for the talented forward. According to a CBC report, the Leafs are offering a pair of first rounders and a second round pick — and possibly a player — to Boston for the unsigned restricted free agent.

That collection of high draft picks sent along for Kessel — along with a potential Bruins draft pick getting shipped back up to the Leafs in exchange for the scorer — could be the best of both worlds for the B’s: it sets the Bruins up to be a major player at the next couple of NHL drafts if they wanted to make a move on a player, and it allows the team to fit snugly under the salary cap this season without moving any more primary pieces.

“I certainly believe in being aggressive and persistent and going after what I want. But I’ve made it clear what we can do,” Poile said to the newspaper. “It’s fairly apparent what other teams are doing. If (Chiarelli) gets two firsts and a second, he’s getting really good compensation. But it is all in the eye of the beholder for a 21-year-old player who scored 36 goals.”

It’s been obvious for weeks that Kessel wouldn’t remain with the Boston Bruins, and both B’s GM Peter Chiarelli and Kessel have maintained that they’d like the situation to be resolved prior to the start of the NHL season on Oct. 1. For Kessel, he’d like to know where he’s going to be playing when he comes back from off-season shoulder surgery in late November, and Chiarelli needs to work out a deal prior to the NHL salary cap locking in at $56.8 million during the first day of the regular season.

The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers are also reportedly in the running, but there may be a surprise team or two in the mix for the 21-year-old Kessel’s services. A deal has been imminent for Kessel since he went back to Wisconsin following the Team USA Orientation camp in August, and now it appears that the contractual impasse is about to get bridged using a third party.

Read More: Dave Poile, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,

Details finalized for ‘Sun Life Frozen Fenway’ event on Jan. 8

09.16.09 at 12:54 pm ET
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Fenway Sports Group and the Hockey East Association announced today that Sun Life Financial, a leading international financial services company, will be the title sponsor of the Sun Life Frozen Fenway series of events at Fenway Park in January 2010.  The events include the first two outdoor college hockey games for Hockey East affiliated schools, first reported here on the Big Bad Blog at WEEI.com, and two City of Boston community skating events. 
 
‘€œWe are thrilled at Sun Life Financial’€™s commitment in making this unique and exciting event possible,’€ said Fenway Sports Group President Sam Kennedy in a press release.  ‘€œSun Life Frozen Fenway will not only showcase the very best talent that college hockey has to offer but will also make it possible for hundreds of children and families to lace up their skates and take the ice for free community skating on the rink at America’€™s Most Beloved Ballpark thanks to Mayor Menino and the City of Boston.’€
 
The Sun Life Frozen Fenway college hockey doubleheader will take place at Fenway Park on January 8, 2010.  The doubleheader will include the first ever women’€™s ice hockey matchup outdoors when the University of New Hampshire takes on Northeastern University at 4:00 p.m. 

Later that night, at 7:30 p.m., the past two men’€™s NCAA Division I Ice Hockey champions, Boston University and Boston College, will be featured in the first ever Hockey East men’€™s ice hockey game outdoors, which will also be broadcast live on NESN (New England Sports Network). In addition to the college hockey doubleheader, Sun Life will also be the presenting sponsor of the Hockey East Gala event on Thursday January 7th.
 
“Based in Boston, we know firsthand the significance of these games and are excited to present this unique opportunity to the collegiate teams and fans,” said Jon Boscia, President, Sun Life Financial.  “The additional opportunity to bring to the community an unforgettable experience to skate inside Fenway Park is a real honor.” 
 
The public ticket sale for the Sun Life Frozen Fenway college hockey doubleheader will begin tomorrow, Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 12:00 noon.  Fans may purchase tickets by visiting www.tickets.com/fenwayhockey.  Ticket prices range from $5.00 to $90.00, with over two-thirds of the ballpark priced at $50.00 or less.
 
“We are very happy that Sun Life Financial has stepped up to support what we think will be the signature event of college hockey’s regular season,” said Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna. “We know the teams will give us what we have come to expect from our athletes. Now, through the generosity of Sun Life Financial, we have a chance to enhance the entire program of events for participant and spectator alike.”
 
‘€œWe are delighted to kick off our Hockey East Friday Night schedule with such an exciting and historic event,’€ said Sean McGrail, NESN President/CEO. ‘€œSun Life Financial’€™s sponsorship of our coverage will make it possible for college hockey fans everywhere to be a part of and to witness college hockey history in the making.’€

Sun Life Frozen Fenway will also include two City of Boston Community skating events on dates to be announced.  These events have been made possible through a community partnership between Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the City of Boston, the National Hockey League, the Boston Bruins and the Hockey East Association.  More information about the City of Boston Community skating events will be released shortly.

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