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Report: Kessel is steering toward a Maple Leafs trade

09.18.09 at 10:16 am ET
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Phil Kessel should be careful about wishing he was playing for Toronto

Phil Kessel should be careful about wishing he was playing for Toronto

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?

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