Chance of a Kessel extension, sooner rather than later?

Courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

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…

Morning Links

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.

THN: Phil Kessel is whatever you want him to beGreat article where Ryan Kennedy gives Phil Kessel the respect he deserves.  Shout out to @mORRganRielly for bringing this to my attention.

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.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]
  • JWasted

    Good thing the NHL gave Kessel some time to negotiate

  • Savo43

    JWasted Blessing in disguise, it would seem.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    This article is dedicated to Greg Fenton. Forgot to include him in the credits.

  • Savo43

    Alec Brownscombe What are your first impressions of Bernier, Alec? Do you like the trade more, than when it was originally made, or too soon to judge?

  • Jordan29

    Alec Brownscombe Did something happen to him? Or did he write it?

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Jordan29 Alec Brownscombe You know Fenton and think he might have wrote that?
    No, nothing happened to him.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Savo43 Alec Brownscombe Too soon. Issue was never with Bernier though, more with how quick some were to declare him superior to Reimer and start throwing Reimer’s name into trade proposals.
    It should be Reimer’s crease and Bernier should have to unseat him in the real games.
    As Nonis said… in the short term, the Leafs could have a platoon of two good young goalies pushing each other and bringing their best stuff this season, it’s nothing short of fantastic for the team. But as Nonis also said, eventually on will take over for the other, and I’d imagine with Reimer’s contract up at years end, it will be decided by the end of the season.
    I say Reimer is still the guy, making the trade not a bad trade necessarily, but one that wasn’t exactly needed and didn’t help the cap situation, affecting the status of another good asset like Franson.

  • Jordan29

    If the Kessel thing gets done easily I think it goes along way to show other players Nonis means business on creating a winner

  • Jordan29

    Alec Brownscombe Jordan29 I have no idea whats going on right now…..

  • Savo43

    Alec Brownscombe Savo43 I can’t decide which goalie i like better tbh. I feel like Bernier makes the saves Reimer doesn’t (through traffic, or a 3 on 1 type of scenario *Bernier seems to handle it calmer*)..but at the same time, i haven’t seen Bernier enough to gauge whether he can make the same big saves Reimer can if that makes sense. 

    Both have played great and it looks like James has (especially) worked endlessly on his breakaways, but really just his whole game, damn, looking sharp. 

    Really like Berniers composure though, i really think it comes down style, and if theres a reason i like Bernier better, its just because he makes me feel easier. Really impressed with how hes directed rebounds, handled the puck, seen the puck through traffic and absorbed pucks from glove to glove. 

    You’re right with the cap scenario and what has taken place in that regard, but i also believe things can still be worked out, unfortunately it is more than likely going to take a salary retention deal, with the forfeiting of a prospect and a pick to ship out the salary we need to…but with the potential roster we could put out there once Franson and Clarkson come back, really seems like one that could be a force, one that seems worth losing a prospect and a pick IMO. Especially with the aforementioned goaltending duo we have.

     I dno i don’t think we’re in as bad a shape as the media’s making it out to be. Especially if there is a tsn/hbo special being taped. Gotta believe they just need to have some material for the series’ first  few episodes ;).