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Maple Leafs could take a run at unsigned Kessel

09.06.09 at 11:15 am ET

With the tumult between Phil Kessel, Kessel’s agent Wade Arnott and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli still freshly established on Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs entered the conversation this weekend when they reacquired their own 2010 second round pick. The Leafs seized back their 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft (one that they originally owned but traded away to Chicago) by sending a second round pick and a third round pick in 2011 to the Chicago Blackhawks for that one pick Saturday afternoon. 

On its face the move didn’t seem all that consequential. Perhaps just a clerical move to get back a pick they had carelessly tossed away. But it could be a harbinger of things to come, and a sign that Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has his eye on a restricted free agent named Phil Kessel. Per CBA rules, a team intent on signing an RFA to an offer sheet must still own all of their original draft picks that would be surrendered as compensation for plundering another team’s restricted free agent cabinet.

The Leafs are clearly missing a goal-scoring forward among their current roster of players headed into the 2009-10 hockey season, and Burke has already shown interest in Kessel after attempting to trade with the Bruins for the 21-year-old sniper during the NHL Entry Draft in June. Chiarelli has been steadfast in his cemented stance that he’ll match any offer sheet within reason to keep Kessel, and then make the appropriate trades needed to clear off the salary cap space.

“I’€™ve said publicly and I’€™ll say it again that I want Phil to be on our team,” said Chiarelli on Friday after announcing Claude Julien’s much-deserved contract extension. “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.’€ 

The B’s have roughly $1.1 million in cap space, and would be looking at  jettisoning $3-4 million in cap space to keep Kessel in the fold. That would likely mean waving goodbye players like Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ference — or perhaps even a bigger piece — if the Bruins wanted to keep the 36-goal scorer in Black and Gold for the near future. Burke’s draft maneuver also puts the Leafs in better bargaining position in trade talks with the Bruins over Kessel, and might be one of the Toronto GMs famous bluffs to cajole a deal out of Chiarelli.

It should also be noted that fellow RFA Brandon Dubinsky is also in a similar position to Kessel with his New York Rangers team at this point, and may also be a target of Burke’s Saturday transaction. The 23-year-old Dubinsky has notched back-to-back 40 points seasons with the Rags, but is not nearly the pure offensive force that Kessel continues to mature into. 

Here are the RFA compensation requirements according to the average annual salary handed out in the offer sheet contract, and what the Bruins would receive should Toronto, San Jose or another interested party come looking for Kessel in these final weeks before the season begins. It’s also worth nothing that Burke was furious when Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe signed one of his players, Dustin Penner, to an unwieldy offer sheet when he was GM  of the Anaheim Ducks. That signing caused Burke to rail about the inflationary nature of sending out offer sheets to restricted free agents, but the Toronto GM might just be poised to pull off the exact same puck caper.

Here are the offer sheet compensation tables:

$994,433 or below None
Over $994,433 to $1,506,716 Third-round choice
Over $1,506,716 to $3,013,434 Second-round choice
Over $3,013,434 to $4,520,150 First-round and third-round choice
Over $4,520,150 to $6,026,867 First-round, second-round and third-round choice
Over $6,026,867 to $7,533,584 Two first-round choices, one second- and one third-round choice
Over $7,533,584 Four first-round choices

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