A fascinating multi-layered piece from Elliotte Friedman on his CBC blog on Wednesday afternoon appears to be a meaningful shot over the bow of Phil Kessel  and agent Wade Arnott amid reports that Kessel has moved on from potential contract talks with the Bruins. According to a Boston.com account , hockey sources claim that Arnott has informed Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that both player and agent are beginning to negotiate with the 29 other NHL  teams holding potential interest in the restricted free agent.
Not much of a shock there as Kessel’s camp and the Bruins haven’t really spoken at all through an entire summer to negotiate a fair deal for the 21-year-old sniper. So now they’re moving on to teams that might be willing to pay the $4-5 million freight that Kessel’s market should likely bear on the free agent market. The B’s have roughly $1.7 million in cap space with training camp set to begin this weekend, and the two sides are looking at a contactual chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon. Tough to refute a lot of Friedman’s observations in a column culled from discussions with unnamed Bruins sources, but they are damning to Kessel nonetheless.
One thing should be added to Friedman’s revealing snapshot of Kessel from some eyes within the walls of Causeway Street. Kessel led the Bruins with 36 goals and was among the top 20 goal-scorers in the NHL  last season while ranking 116th in the NHL in terms of power play ice time per game. That should give hockey followers an idea of how much higher his hockey production can rise. Kessel also missed a dozen games while fighting through mononucleosis and the late-season shoulder injury that resulted in off-season surgery, and would have easily cleared 40 goals had he remained healthy.
Among the interesting tidbits from Friedman are:
–Kessel wouldn’t play through a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder until teammates informed the young winger that fellow teammates were playing through much worse injuries.
–The talented winger is a gifted skater and shooter that enjoyed a breakout season in 2008-09, but much of Kessel’s production was attributed to Kessel’s pairing with Marc Savard  last season. Kessel needs to skate witha gifted passer that can get him the puck in spots where he can utilize his blazing speed, but that could be said of just about every scorer worth their salt in the NHL. Without a crafty playmaking “piece” like Savard skating with him, Friedman wrote, a Kessel experiment would fail.
–Kessel is compared to hulking winger Milan Lucic  in terms of work ethic and willingness to improve his strengthwith weight room dedication, and Kessel isn’t looked upon favorably. There’s been whispers throughout Kessel’s years in Boston that the youngster is averse to needed weight room work and is slow to absorb constructive criticism from the coaching staff and teammates. It’s part of the reason he’s been mentioned prominently in trade rumors in each of his three seasons with the Bruins, and it’s why the goal-scorer is again on the verge of being dealt away to another NHL destination.
One other hockey fact that rings true about the Kessel/Lucic comparison: Looch is going to be a cornerstone player for years to come with the Bruins, but the youngster doesn’t possess the hands, speed and shot to score 36 goals in a season.
Kessel is also compared with 23-year-old Krejci, and again the goal-scoring phenom isn’t cast in a favorable light. Krejci is more respected in the room for playing through a hip injury that required surgery without a complaint during the season, and he was awarded with a three-year, $3.75 million contract that is actually viewed as very club-friendly in many circles.
The Bruins set something of a ceiling for Kessel in their own minds with the $3.75 annual salary awarded to the playmaking Krejci, but goal-scoring players with Kessel’s skill-set always command more salary than their assist-happy, two-way playing brethren. An elite — or potentially elite — goal-scorer is the most rare and valuable commodity in today’s NHL. Kessel is the only skater on the Boston Bruins  roster with that kind of potential, and nobody can match his blend of speed, skill and wrist shot on the roster.
–Kessel has had some fairly well-documented run-ins with B’s coach Claude Julien  during their two years together in Boston, and culminated in Kessel getting benched three games in favor or Jeremy Reich for the 2007-08 playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens . Reportedly they’ve argued on things as trivial as the stick that Kessel is using in games and the youngster isn’t very receptive to criticism of any kind.
Apparently the Bruins have also required “good cops” in the Bruins locker room — teammates on the winger’s side that make sure Kessel has the proper support system in place within the B’s dressing room. Kessel would be extremely uncomfortable under the Toronto microscope if that’s where he were to eventually end up when he’s ready to play in mid-to-early November. That situation would be further exacerbated if Kessel doesn’t have the very-same support system in place with the stern Ron Wilson  and blustery Brian Burke running the Maple Leafs  Show.
One unnamed Bruins teammate referenced Kessel’s combination of youth and immaturity, and assumed that he’ll learn as he gains age and experience. That should be true, and his goal totals should also grow as he gains more power play time and enters his hockey-playing prime. Ruling out growth and improvement in an asset so skilled as Kessel would be unwise, but it appears that too much water has already traveled under the bridge between player and hockey team. How many times does a player have to hear his name involved with aborted trade proposals before he begins to believe that his own hockey team truly doesn’t want him on the roster anymore?
Two? Three? Maybe four?
A difficult free agency negotiation and countless trade rumors during Kessel’s career have taken their toll on the essential bond of trust between player and organization, and it appears that the end is in sight soon. All that remains is to see what hockey sweater Kessel will wear next season. Because it certainly doesn’t appear that it’ll be the Black and Gold of the Spoked ‘B’.