There appears to be no end in sight for the Phil Kessel saga, according to both Toronto Maple Leafs' president and general manager Brian Burke or Boston Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli.
The American-born sniper remains unsigned by the Boston Bruins, and despite rumours circulating about the interest of several teams in the restricted free agent, a move does not appear imminent.
Those rumours intensified Saturday when the Toronto Maple Leafs re-acquired their own 2010 second-round draft pick from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Toronto's third-round pick in 2011 and a 2011 second-round pick that was previously acquired by Toronto from Calgary.
The move meant that the Maple Leafs were once again in possession of their own first, second and third-round picks in the 2010 NHL entry draft, which as TSN Insider Bob McKenzie pointed out, is the prerequisite for any team that would want to submit an offer sheet on a top restricted free agent player this summer.
An animated Brian Burke discussed the rumours with reporters Tuesday at the team's training facilities in Toronto.
"I do not contemplate an offer sheet to Phil Kessel at this time," Burke told reporters.
Burke was notably furious with then Oilers' general manager Kevin Lowe for signing Dustin Penner to an offer sheet in the Summer of 2007 when Burke was GM of the Anaheim Ducks. Burke wanted to make it clear that he believes the situations are completely different.
"My objection was that I got blindsided by it at a time I thought was inappropriate," Burke stated. "This entire process has involved dialogue with (Bruins GM) Peter Chiarelli. I told him about reacquiring the pick, telling him the night before I got the pick that I intended to get the pick back. There has been no blindside or back door like Kevin Lowe did."
Burke also made it clear that he does not in fact object to the notion of the offer sheet which some have suggested.
"They are part of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement)," Burke stated. "And the team utilizes that tool to get better. It's not an issue to me and it wasn't an issue to me. So on that basis I don't believe that they are parallel circumstances at all."
Chiarelli was a guest of TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger on Toronto radio station AM 640 later on Tuesday. Although he refused to discuss any negotiations with Kessel or potential trade scenarios, he did discuss the notion of an offer sheet being submitted to his unsigned young star.
"What we have here in Phil Kessel is a player that is unsigned that we are trying to sign," Chiarelli told Dreger on AM640. "Obviously in this business now with the (salary) cap there is the possibility of offer sheets. It's something that we in the management group in Boston are fully aware of. It's part of the trade now.
"(Kessel) is a talented player, so of course there are interested teams. It is something that I have to balance as a general manager."
Chiarelli also stated that there was no animosity between himself and Burke and that he had a great respect for the current Maple Leafs' president and general manager.
"We go way back and I think he's going to do a good job for the Leafs," Chiarelli told Dreger. "But we're at opposite sides of the fence and we're both competitive, but he's a good man."
When asked about his thoughts on offer sheets, Chiarelli joked:
"I will reserve my judgement on that for a month or so."
While Chiarelli insisted that the team would love to re-sign Kessel, they are dangerously close to the NHL's mandated $56.8 million salary cap. While the Bruins have about $1.6 million remaining, Kessel is rumoured to be asking for a salary in the $4-5 million range.
Should the Leafs, or some other team, decide to sign Kessel to an offer sheet, Chiarelli made it clear that he had the support of the organization in making his decision.
"You do have the right to first refusal and the right to match and I have the full endorsement of ownership to do that."
The 21-year old Kessel, who is sidelined until at least November following rotator cuff surgery, overcame a battle with testicular cancer in 2006 and captured the Masterton Trophy in 2007 for perseverance and dedication to hockey. The Madison, Wisconsin native enjoyed a career season with the Bruins last year, leading the team with 36 goals in 70 games while adding 24 assists to finish with a career high 60 points. He was selected in the first round, fifth overall by the Bruins in the 2006 NHL Entry draft.