It took sometime to manifest, prolonged in the wake of shoulder surgery and stunted contract talks, but the September 10th news that negotiations between the Boston Bruins, Wade Arnott and Phil Kessel had come to an impasse reignited the rumor mill that has surrounded the Leafs and the Madison, Wisconsin sniper since Brian Burke first tabled Tomas Kaberle in the infamous draft day “misunderstanding.”
In the week that has passed since negotiations broke down, the value of Kessel has skyrocketed beyond the original RFA compensation of a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round selection in the 2010 draft.
With competition in the form of the Nashville Predators and, to a lesser extent, the New York Rangers, forcing Kessel’s name to the block and value up, one recently touted proposal (amid a myriad of reported proposals) has suggested the Leafs offer a prospect player, roster player and premium draft selection in an attempt to circumvent an contractual bidding war.
For his part Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has helped oil the wheels of the trade bandwagon by loudly indicating a will to match any offer sheet, albeit with every man and his dog aware that the Bruins have almost zero leeway in the cap and the likes of Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler all headed for varying degrees of free agency next summer.
Smoke and mirrors? or creative cap management? Nothing short of fiscal genius is going to keep the impressively resurgent Bruins of last year on track if they want to haggle with a Leafs organization boasting almost $6million in cap space, easily enough to entice the mercurial Kessel.
Boston may not be in a position of strength in terms of dollars, but with the Predators possessing a roomy $15million under cap and the Dustin Penner debarcle still fresh in his memory, Burke could still find the trading route a more preferable method for persuing the 36 goal scorer many are now baying to see in blue and white.
Logic dictates that the Predators would be unlikely to match the Leafs on the trading block owing to the Tennessee franchises dependence on cheap prospects and a depth chart heavy on defence, fundamentally lacking the components Chiarelli is likely to want in return. Regardless, Nashville remain potential suitors equally hell bent on trading for the Bruins forward with dubious chips such as Alexander Radulov.
But is Kessel likely to want to play for a well coached, but frankly backwater club?
Dependant on ambition and pride over green; arguments concerning Kessel’s disposition to southern hockey is by-the-by if Nashville decided to undercut Chiarelli in the standoff and vastly overpay for Kessel’s services, albeit significantly improbable. Subsequently, with Chiarelli posturing as puppet master, what would be the likely cost of Burke following the trade route to secure a jewel in the Leafs currently unexceptional offensive core?
As concerns the prospect element, several names have been mentioned with the most favored being Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin. Untested or at least unproven with the big club, Tlusty enjoyed a prosperous year in the AHL last season tallying a point a game average in his 66 outings on the farm. Only five months younger than Kessel, Tlusty has been slow in assimilating to the physical side of the North American game but his potential remains untapped.
Kulemin, on the other hand, experienced life on every line last season not to mention a scoreless five game trip to the AHL. Foregoing the inconsistencies that characterized his rookie season, Kulemin did show flashes of offensive flair particularly down the home stretch. Scoring 9 points in the final 11 games, Kulemin potted five goals and demonstrated a tenacity in front of net that belied his size.
While both have shown snippets of potential, neither are remotely projecting the kinds of output Kessel has enjoyed alongside Marc Savard or would likely enjoy even without the benefit of a bona fide setup man.
With Tlusty being more cap friendly, the Czech native would probably make a better fit in a trade particularly if the roster player turned out to be the equally cheap, utilitarian spare part Ian White who seems far and away the most likely candidate to fill out the proposal.
With a first round selection tagged on, a trade would almost seem a more preferable route to surrendering three draft selections, freeing up an extra $1.7million in cap as well as relieving the log jam in defense for an offensive talent superior to anything in the Leafs cupboard.
However this would also prove contrary to Burke’s stratagem in trading back for his original second round selection and for good reason; the Bruins are unlikely to trade Kessel for Tlusty, White and a first round selection. 1. Because they can’t afford to take on any further cap and 2. They don’t value the players offered.
More likely the Bruins are countering the Leafs offers with the increasingly outlandish rumors of recent days. Two consecutive first round selections and second round pick (no cap hit picks), or a prospect that could potentially blow up in Burke’s face were he to trade such as Kadri, Stalberg or Bozak… names doing the rounds on Bruins forums.
Often criticized for being an egotistical trading partner, Burke is known to deal to win. With little love lost between Chiarelli and Burke after the draft day debacle, BB is also keen to avoid pulling any move that could be interpreted as JFJesque or for that matter Kevin Lowe-esque. However weak the drafts of 2010 and 2011 maybe being perceived, trading two first rounders and a second round pick would be submissively masochistic not to mention a complete u-turn on the rebuilding/retooling blueprints followed up to now. Furthermore, with the excitement that is surrounding Kadri, Stalberg and Bozak following the Leafs rookie tournament, dealing away a significant prospect, even for a proven star, would certainly hollow any victory in securing Kessel.
Subsequently patience is the key to Kessel, who is after all unlikely to play until November. With the Rangers seemingly ending their interest in Kessel because of their own cap limitations, the Leafs are heads up with Nashville. While Chiarelli may like to believe he has some say in the outcome, he effectively wrung his hands of Kessel with the signing of Derek Morris. The question now remains are the silent player in Nashville willing to gratuitously overpay?… unlikely, does the Boston GM want a compensatory collection of draft picks or a compensatory collection of spare parts? And is Burke willing to go down the offer sheet route he is so loathed too?
With Chiarelli making the trade route very steep indeed despite having his hands tied, one can only hope Burke doesn’t overpay to end the standoff.
Originally written for the Maple Leafs Hot Stove