Kessel: A Leaf for Life? Maybe Not

In a previous post, I talked a little about the Leafs’ plans in the summer of 2013, and how Burke is likely looking ahead to then for major bolstering of the team. Potentially, with some big additions available to bid on, and a new set of rules under which to do so.

The following season he heads in to contract years for his two biggest acquisitions to date in Toronto: Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.

Now, people are going to get on me for jumping the gun a little here or trying to make something of nothing, but whatever.

Between the two potential UFAs, Kessel causes the most concern for me. Why? Well, I think Kessel will likely be more sought after, and I think Phaneuf just re-signs beforehand and stays as the captain of the biggest hockey franchise in history. Call it gut feeling.

It would be smarter for Kessel to hit the market. If there are no caps on contracts, he’ll likely lock in to a 12-13 year deal that will pay him huge until he’s like 39, something Burke hasn’t been willing to do. Even if there is a cap on years, he would garner an enormous pay day, and get to pick where he plays. If the Leafs fail to compete in the next two years (very likely), do you think that place is Toronto?

There’s a little something else at play here: the Minnesota Wild have recently decided to become the 2012 version of the 2011 Buffalo Sabres. They’re not afraid of the dollar or the term, as is evidenced by the monster contracts they managed to dish out this summer to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two players arguably worth less than Kessel.

Kessel was the reason I thought the Leafs had a shot at Ryan Suter. Apparently the two are good friends, and Kessel has a history with Bob Suter, who helped develop his game with the Madison Capitals. It would be dumb to think Suter and the Wild wouldn’t want to coax Kessel there, especially considering he played hockey for the University of Minnesota prior to being drafted by the Bruins. There are a few connections.

With the Wild deciding to spend big this year, they’ve run themselves up around the cap. We don’t know how that will look in 2014, given the new negotiations and potential lockout, but regardless, Minnesota conveniently have Heatley and Setoguchi on expiring deals in Kessel’s UFA year, to the tune of over ten million combined. Lots of space opening up at the perfect time.

It’s possible Burke could find himself in a situation similar to the one Ray Shero experienced this summer with Jordan Staal, where Shero was smart and managed to get a solid return instead of holding on and losing Staal for nothing next summer.

If the Leafs go in to the 2013-14 season with Kessel and are unsure about his intentions, they risk losing him for little at the deadline, or nothing in the summer. Given how much sense it makes for him to go to free agency, and the potential suitors out there, Burke (or his replacement) could have a lot on his plate in 2013, and it may not be all about adding.

Yes, yes, I know it’s a bit early to start talking about this kind of stuff. But if there’s a season this year, a lot will be riding on whether the Leafs can get some results and whether or not Phil Kessel goes in to the final year of his contract without a sniff of the playoffs in Toronto. I think it matters.

  • Nope. The leafs are going to sign Perry, Getzlaf and probably Horton and Lethonen as well.

    At the same time Burke will sign any quality expiring or soon to be expiring leaf UFA like Kessel and Phaneuf. Why? Well it is simple – Burke is magic.

  • Really thought provoking, as most of us hadnt thought of Kessel moving on, but the possibility is there, for sure. It would be horrible if Phil left and the Leafs got nothing in return. And …all eyes on the Bruins, who likely have Seguin and Armstrong locked up for many years. Groan.

  • I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about this — I’m already stressed about it. Now is the time when we need to really consider the impact of the moves we make over the next year and how they’ll impact keeping Kessel in the fold, viz. do we really want to trade for someone else’s overpaid center given the potential consequences?