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Kessel may be good to go

Chiarelli indicates that deal could be imminent

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs (left) and principal Charlie Jacobs got down to brass tacks at the Town Meeting. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs (left) and principal Charlie Jacobs got down to brass tacks at the Town Meeting. (Steve Senne/Associated Press)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / September 18, 2009

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Within minutes of last night’s annual Bruins Town Meeting wrapping up at the Garden, general manager Peter Chiarelli dropped a significant hint that the Phil Kessel saga is near its end.

“Is there anything imminent?’’ said Chiarelli, repeating a reporter’s question before departing an event that drew some 2,700 season ticket-holders to Causeway Street. “Yes, possibly.’’

Of course, that also could be interpreted as “possibly not,’’ but Chiarelli’s tone was that of a man who is fed up with protracted, unproductive talks and is ready to make a deal.

“In terms of closure,’’ said Chiarelli, “I want closure yesterday.’’

Kessel, who scored 36 goals last season, is now believed to be looking for better than $5 million a year on a long-term pact, and it’s a fait accompli that the Maple Leafs, desperate for scoring punch, would give the 21-year-old right winger that dough. The Leafs have plenty of muscle in their lineup but need some touch in those rock-hard hands.

Rumors the last 2-3 weeks have had Kessel going to Toronto or Nashville, most likely in a sign-and-trade deal. Based on another hint Chiarelli dropped last night, there could be a three-way deal in play, possibly with the Bruins engaging the Leafs and Rangers, or the Leafs and Predators.

“I suppose something like that is possible,’’ confirmed Chiarelli. “Maybe there’s an answer in there for everybody.’’

The Rangers have yet to come to contract terms with 23-year-old center/wing Brandon Dubinsky, who, like Kessel, is a restricted free agent. The Globe confirmed earlier this week that the Leafs have offered Boston a pair of first-round draft picks and a second-rounder, provided the Bruins add a third-round pick into the mix.

Leafs GM Brian Burke has a penchant for pulling off complex deals, the most notable of which came in 1999 when his orchestrations netted twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the second and third picks in the draft.

With Burke willing to surrender his pair of first-round picks, he conceivably could flip one of those picks and possibly a prospect to the Rangers for Dubinsky, who last year connected for 13 goals and 41 points for the highly-mediocre Blueshirts. Burke then could turn around and offer Chiarelli the first-rounder and Dubinsky, the 60th pick overall in the 2004 draft, for Kessel.

The Anchorage-born Dubinsky, at 6 feet 1 inch, 210 pounds, is a much sturdier player and has proven more durable than the 5-11, 180-pound Kessel, whose overall game and goal-scoring ability center on speed.

In his two full seasons with the Rangers, Dubinsky has not missed a game, and he has built a reputation as a solid two-way forward who embraces defensive responsibilities. That makes him very much a player who fits the Claude Julien success mold. It also makes him the unKessel. The Bruins, if they could net Dubinsky, would add a top-six forward into their mix and also hold a first-round and possibly a second-round pick for Kessel, whom they drafted No. 5 overall in 2006.

It’s precisely the kind of value package Chiarelli has been seeking since coming to the realization 2-3 weeks ago that he would not be able to come to terms with Kessel.

Over the course of a 45-minute question-and-answer session in the building last night, during which fans fired questions to Bruins management and players, Chiarelli was asked only one question about Kessel. To wit: How would the Bruins go about replacing the winger’s three-dozen goals?

Not to worry, said Chiarelli, there are players on the roster who “could pick up the slack.’’ One of them is Marco Sturm, who missed half of last season with a mangled knee that required surgery.

“It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to sign [Kessel],’’ said Chiarelli. “We can’t lose sight of the balance you have to strike with your team. Phil is a good person and a good player. We’ll see how it resolves itself.’’

Club owner Jeremy Jacobs and son Charlie - he who wants to be team president - joined the likes of Chiarelli, Julien, and Cam Neely on the podium. Players Derek Morris, Milan Lucic, and Patrice Bergeron also joined in.

The Bruins also unveiled the vintage uniform they’ll wear for the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Fenway Park against the Flyers. David Krejci appeared on stage, under a flurry of fake snow (a foamy mix), sporting the new brown-and-gold hockey haberdashery. Overall, it was understated and classy, with the traditional B in the middle of the logo fashioned in a quasi-cartoonish font.

Far be it from a puck scribe to comment with authority on fashion, but it seemed to come together OK, with ample amounts of tradition weaved into the design.

Neely, who preferred his game sweaters drenched in sweat and blood, offered a narration on the design while Krejci worked the ramp.

The lightest moment of the evening had the three players tiptoeing around a fan’s question asking them to ponder what team they would want to play for if not the Bruins.

“No other team,’’ said a convincing Lucic.

“Yeah,’’ said a diplomatic Bergeron, “I think I’ve got the same answer there.’’

Morris, who came aboard as a free agent this summer for a one-year deal worth $3.3 million, was the last to answer.

“I’ve played for all the others,’’ he said.

Hey, if Morris can handle the puck the way he did the microphone, this could be an interesting season.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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