Phil Kessel has made it clear that he doesn’t intend to negotiate any longer with the Bruins, his Toronto-based agent in recent days informing the Boston front office that the right winger’s priority instead is to sign a free-agent offer sheet with one of the league’s 29 other teams.
All of which doesn’t necessarily mean that Kessel’s days in the Hub are numbered.
The Bruins, per CBA rules and guidelines, still reserve the right to match any offer sheet Kessel signs, and if they choose to match they are only prohibited from trading Kessel for the first year of his new deal.
”No comment,” Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli responded via e-mail early this afternoon when asked about Kessel’s latest stance on negotiations.
Kessel’s agent, Wade Arnott, when contacted by the Globe earlier this week about his side’s current negotiating stance, claimed the change in tactics wasn’t true. But two sources familiar with the talks, which on Monday were proclaimed by Chiarelli to be at a ”philosophical impasse,” confirmed the new passive-aggressive approach by the 21-year-old right winger.
The Bruins, who open training camp this weekend, have tried to sign Kessel to a deal on par with the three-year, $11.35 million pact signed earlier this summer by 23-year-old pivot David Krejci. However, it has become obvious since July 1, the start of free agency, that Kessel believes he is worth more. He noted to a Globe reporter during last month’s US Olympic orientation camp in suburban Chicago that Krejci’s contract was not relevant to his deal.
Kessel also said he would accept a discount to re-sign with the Bruins, for whom he has played the last three seasons, but it would not be a significant rollback from his asking price (which he has never made public).
”That’s an agent thing,” he said, attempting to distance himself from the talks.
Kessel last season led the Bruins with 36 goals, tying him with Dallas winger Loui Eriksson for 12th among the league-leading goal scorers. The 11 players ahead of Kessel and Eriksson on the scoring list will average $6.5 million in average cap hit for the upcoming season.
The Bruins, with only $1.7 million in cap space for the coming season, would have to make roster moves to accommodate Kessel at their desired target of upwards of $4 million per season.
If another NHL club were to roll out, say, $5 million per season for Kessel, the Bruins almost certainly would have to accept the CBA-dictated compensation package that includes only a first-, second-, and third-round draft pick. All of which likely points toward Chiarelli opting instead to make a trade for something or someone better.
When the Bruins 15 years ago dealt disgruntled defenseman Glen Wesley to Hartford, then GM Harry Sinden swapped him for three first-round picks in what was a sign-and-trade deal. Any club willing to go that high for Kessel, or to swap roster players or prospects for him, no doubt will want to know that it can bring Kessel aboard at their price — pointing once again to a sign-and-trade arrangement. Otherwise, a club could give up assets to acquire Kessel’s rights, then be vulnerable to Kessel signing another club’s offer sheet.
Kessel, reconditioning from offseason shoulder surgery, was not expected to be in training camp this weekend, simply because he remains an unsigned Group 2 free agent. He said last month that he expects to play again in early- or mid-November.
At least three clubs — the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Predators — have contacted Chiarelli in hopes or making a deal for Kessel. The Leafs in late June offered veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle, but the deal fell apart when Chiarelli and his Leafs counterpart, Brian Burke, couldn’t agree on what first-round draft picks to include in the swap.