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McKenzie: Bruins in a tough spot as they try to trade Kessel

Bob McKenzie
9/18/2009 12:14:36 AM
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I don't doubt the Nashville Predators have significant interest in Boston Bruins' restricted free agent Phil Kessel.
And I don't doubt, all things being equal, Boston would rather move Kessel to Nashville and the Western Conference than to the division rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
But here's why Nashville, regardless of what it offers Boston, is at a serious disadvantage in the Kessel sweepstakes.
Kessel, it appears, wants to play in Toronto, not Nashville. And as long as that remains the case, Nashville can't trade for him.
In order to make the trade with Boston, Nashville has to be sure it can get Kessel signed to a contract. And, by all accounts, as long as Toronto wants Kessel, the player isn't going to agree to terms with any other team.
That leaves both Boston and Nashville in a tough spot.
If Nashville did trade for Kessel without having a contract agreement in place, the Maple Leafs would simply swoop in and deliver a free-agent offer sheet to the goal-scoring winger. Nashville could, in theory, match the offer and keep Kessel. But the chances of that happening would appear to be slim.
We can only guess what the offer sheet would look like, but it's reasonable to think Kessel could get a five or six-year deal with an annual salary and cap hit of about $5.5 million. But it's also possible that the Leafs could front-end load the first calendar year of the contract to the tune of, say, $12 million. There could be a hefty signing bonus now, a big salary for the 2009-10 season and another big signing bonus on July 1st, 2010.
Could the fiscally-responsible Predators afford to do that? Would they want to do that?
My guess is, not a chance.
The Leafs may not be guaranteed to end up with Kessel, but as long as the player holds out for a landing in Toronto, Boston is seriously handcuffed in its ability to trade him. At least that's how it looks from here.
If Kessel isn't traded in the next day or two, I could see the Leafs dropping the offer-sheet bomb as early as this weekend.
Boston would have the right to match, and may do that on principle alone (owner Jeremy Jacobs may order it just to show his team can't be raided), but if they do, with the way the offer sheet is likely to be structured, it's going to be extremely costly in the short term and force the Bruins to shed some other players and salaries to make Kessel fit under the cap.
The dynamics could change if Kessel decides he's prepared to play somewhere other than Toronto, but for now, it looks like the Bruins' options are severely limited. Either trade him to Toronto or don't and risk the Leafs delivering an offer sheet that, at the very least, will cause the Bruins some hardship in the form of having to re-jig a lineup that looks pretty well set.
It should be interesting.
Bob McKenzie


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