While Phil Kessel told reporters yesterday that no talks have taken place as of yet, assistant general manager Dave Poulin has hinted at the possibility of something developing in the next few days as it relates to a new contract extension for the noted pugilist.
This is welcome news for me. There is something disconcerting about a drawn-out, after-season Kessel negotiation. The longer the Leafs leave this means the greater the likelihood something will go wrong, before next thing you know… there goes the neighbourhood. Knowing Kessel doesn’t want to negotiate during the season – we don’t know for sure that this stance is inflexible, but assuming it is – could very well mean this goes down to the wire if a deal doesn’t get done soon. Ask Lou Lamoriello if it’s a good idea to trust your ability to get a deal done with a big-name UFA at the eleventh hour.
I may come off here like I’m all for rushing to hand Kessel a blank cheque before October 1st, but it goes without saying this could not be more unlike the hardball RFA negotiations that dragged (or are still dragging) on in Leafland this summer and fall.
Traditionally, when the Leafs have negotiated major contracts with in-house players, the maximum contract length they’ve handed out is 5 years. Tomas Kaberle got a 5-year deal in 2006. Bryan McCabe got a 5-year contract later that year. If I recall correctly, Mats Sundin was signed to separate deals of 3 and then 5 years in length when he was in his prime, but this was back when players were RFAs until they were near retirement.
In terms of recent examples, the Leafs got out well ahead of UFA with Lupul, giving him a 5-year extension before the start of last season. Bozak, technically in this conversation, got 5 years on an inflated deal the night before free agency.
The Leafs‘ theory, at least as it was explained under Burke, was that contracts longer than 5 years do not keep the fire burning in the player’s belly with the same ferocity. Overlong term deals can be coach killers that both hurt the team and the player’s reputation in the long run. Burke always admitted, however, that he would break this rule of thumb if he felt there was ever a player worth breaking it for, in terms of character and ability.
If the Leafs want to stick by the aforementioned credo with Kessel, they’re going to have to pay up big time over those 5 years. They would be giving Kessel a huge raise, possibly to the tune of $3.5 million above his current $5.4 million salary, effective next July 1, at a time when their 2014-15 column on capgeek looks like a Christmas tree. If they sign something closer to the max (7 or 8 years), they can save some money on the annual AAV by working with the year-to-year variance a little more, but would be bearing more of a risk on a player who is, statistically speaking, currently already playing at his production peak (which is, statistically, 25/26 years old).
I like to think that Kessel would love nothing more than to be here long term, but if he wants to dig his heels in on guaranteed big money for the next 8 years, another team if not the Leafs will give it to him. If that’s what it takes, and it saves us on the cap hit in the short run, I say do what must be done.
Thanks to @MLHS_Aaron for putting the links together this morning…
BCP: Puck Handling: How Jonathan Bernier can help Toronto – Something, I’m sure, many of us have already taken note of in the preseason. Bernier is not Brodeur, but his puck handling abilities should help our d-zone exits.
Sporting Charts: 2013-2014 NHL preseason suppositions – Bob Sullivan cranks up the “what-if” machine for all 30 teams.
SportsNet: Reimer determined to remain No.1 – Reimer’s competitive spirit is impressive and you can’t help but cheer for the kid. More importantly, he no longer views himself as the underdog. He’s ready to battle, and it shows.
Yahoo! Puck Daddy: Lambert, Ron Rolston should be punished – The condescension is nauseating but I agree with Lambert here, albeit for different reasons.
HIBS: Band Aid, Can David Bolland stay healthy? – This is legitimate question and worth asking if Bolland is going to play the shut-down role Coach Carlyle expects him to play.