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Agent: Kessel’s first priority is to get a deal done with Boston

06.10.09 at 9:53 am ET
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Reports have been swirling over the last few days that Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the agent for 21-year-old B’s sniper Phil Kessel are pretty far apart in negotiations, and that a trade of Kessel this summer could be a certainty if that contractual chasm isn’t bridged.

Kessel’s agent Wade Arnott checked in with the Big Bad Blog on Tuesday afternoon, refuted the notion that the sides are at an impasse, and in fact stated that he and Chiarelli have just recently opened up contract discussions. The negotiations began in earnest this week following Kessel’s surgery to repair a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Kessel, a restricted free agent able to receive offer sheets from other teams if he’s still unsigned on July 1, has made it clear to Arnott that he wants to remain with the team that drafted him fifth overall in the first round back in the 2006 draft.

“We’re in the early, early stages,” said Arnott of the negotiations. “We’re just beginning to chat now. Everything in our industry is still deadline-oriented and Phil is a restricted free agent, so it doesn’t surprise me (that discussions have only just begun). In addition to that, the priority was the surgery on his shoulder. Now that he’s recovering nicely from that I guess Peter has decided that now is the time to turn his attention to Phil.” 

The B’s signed fellow RFA David Krejci to a three-year, $11.25 million contract last week that gives the Black and Gold an affordable burgeoning superstar over the next three seasons, but it’s expected that Kessel is going to cost the Bruins more money than his 23-year-old teammate. Kessel scored a combined 30 goals in his first two NHL seasons while also battling through testicular cancer as a rookie, but the 6-foot, 189-pounder began to blossom this season as a 21-year-old, baby-faced sniper.

Kessel led the Bruins with 36 goals scored despite missing 12 games with a bout of mononucleosis and the shoulder injury that eventually required offseason surgery, and has 15 career points — including nine goals — in 15 playoff games over the last two seasons. The $3.75 million per year mark signed by Krejci is sure to be the jumping off point for Boston in negotiations with Kessel, but there are other contracts that Kessel’s representation is surely looking at as comparable to the budding superstar.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeff Carter signed a three-year, $15 million contract prior to last season after scoring 66 goals over his first three NHL seasons (23, 14, and 29 respectively) and then exploded for46 goals as a 24-year-old this season. Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal inked a four-year, $16 million contract extension that begins next season after the 20-year-old scored 63 goals over his first three seasons for the Pens. Washington Capitals Alexander Semin signed a two-year, $9.2 million in Oct. 2007 as a 23-year-old while in the midst of scoring 74 goals in his first three NHL seasons. 

Before signing his current deal that will begin paying him $8.25 million per year beginning next season, a then-21-year-old Eric Staal signed a three-year, $13.5 million pact as his second contract in the NHL after scoring 86 goals in his first three seasons — and winning a Stanley Cup as a second-year player with the Canes. On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Parise signed a four-year, $12.5 million cap-friendly extension with the New Jersey Devils in Aug. 2007 after totalling 45 goals in his first two NHL seasons.

With all of those deals utilized as market-setters from the recent past, it’s likely that Kessel’s representation is looking for something in between the younger Staal’s $4 million per year deal and Carter’s $5 million per-annum pact with the Flyers. If the Bruins and Kessel aren’t able to come to an contract agreement by July 1, the young B’s forward can begin fielding offer sheets from other teams around in the NHL — an interesting scenario in a world where the NHL salary cap is shrinking.

Despite the depressed world economy, it’s also a world where 36-goals scorers at 21 years old don’t exactly grow on trees and Kessel’s world class skating speed and deadly snap shot would attract many suitors.

Arnott indicated that both he and Kessel weren’t looking at the July 1 free agency period with any significance at this point. The talented Bruins forward has indicated to his representation that he wants to exhaust every opportunity with Boston before turning to other options.

“My instructions from Phil are that my first priority is to try and get a deal done with Boston,” said Arnott, who also indicated that Kessel’s recovery from shoulder surgery is going well, but that the young winger is likely to miss a month next season. “His interests lie in remaining in Boston, and we’re going to see if we can get that done first.”

Chiarelli recently indicated that he views Kessel an important part of the Bruins hockey club, but that he wouldn’t feel “rushed” or “hurried” by a July 1 date that allows the speedy young winger to begin courting offers from other teams. The danger is that an opposing team will see an opportunity to strike the Bruins with a blow by inking Kessel to an expensive offer sheet — as the Edmonton Oilers did to the tune of seven years and $50 million with Buffalo Sabres RFA Tomas Vanek prior to the 2007-08 season. The salary cap-strapped B’s would be forced to match the offer — and begin trading off other assets in a position of desperation — or watch Kessel sign with somebody else and potentially blossom into a 40-50 goal scorer.

Looking at past hockey history, Arnott hasn’t shown much hesitation in steering clients toward the offer sheet route, if given the option, and signed RFA David Backes to a three-year, $7.5 million offer sheet with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1 last summer. The Blues matched the offer sheet to retain their own free agent, and Backes scored 31 goals for St. Louis during their march to the playoffs last season.

Chiarelli has already said that he’s intent on matching any offer sheets tendered to Kessel if things get to the free agency period, but it’ll be shocking if it’s allowed to get to that point given Boston’s salary cap situation and the surefire interest around the league in a budding 21-year-old goal scorer.

‘€œEvery negotiation is different and every person’€™s family has different needs,’€ said Chiarelli. ‘€œWe’€™ll see how the rest of the negotiations unfold. (Kessel and Krejci) are both very valued members of our team. (Getting all three signed by July 1) isn’€™t insignificant, but it’€™s just one of the factors involved here.

‘€œIt’€™s something where you have to gauge the negotiations as they are, and if someone wants to lead the negotiations until July 1 then we’€™re prepared to do that. We’€™re going to match (any offer sheets). It’€™s one of the factors. There are other tools that we have as a team. We can elect arbitration on certain players. I don’€™t want to be rushed or hurried by the July 1 (deadline). I recognize that there’€™s a threat of offer sheets. While there may be some I’€™m prepared to match in our cases, we’€™re prepared beyond matching to do the maneuvers that we have to do.’€

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