Why The Boston Bruins Should Avoid Phil Kessel

The Toronto Maple Leafs are about to demolish their hockey club and lay the foundation for a massive rebuild.

The Boston Bruins are in the middle of an offseason transition looking for more offense.

Enter Phil Kessel. Toronto’s most prized possession is the focal point of their rebuild and have long been rumored to be taking offers for their right winger. His limited no-trade clause has Kessel’s list of teams he would approve a trade to.

Boston is one of them. From TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie:

“Kessel’s limited NTC is believed to include eight teams he can be traded to. Prior to the trade deadline, TSN reported those eight teams were believed to be: Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; Minnesota; Montreal; New York Rangers; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh.”

Sounds like a perfect fit, right? Not so fast.

Kessel carries about as much baggage as he does talent. The Bruins need offense and a prolific sniper of his ability but there are too many issues that should negate the thought of a TD Garden reunion party.

Show Me The Money

Bad contracts and no-trade clauses have doomed Boston this summer in terms of their salary cap space. The club will have just over $7 million in cap room to sign one of the pieces they acquired in the trade that sent Kessel north of the border in 2009. Dougie Hamilton, one of the picks they acquired for Kessel, is the future of the Bruins blueline and requires a new contract to stay on Causeway Street for the near future.

Kessel carries a monster cap hit of $8 million for the next seven seasons. If he were to come to Boston, the Wisconsin native would immediately become the team’s highest paid player and join David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Tuukka Rask with big money contracts signed through at least 2021.

NHL Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Hockey
Kessel would instantly become Boston’s highest-paid player for the next seven seasons. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Combined, they would count for over $30 million against the cap for the next six years, not counting Hamilton’s new deal (if he gets one). That is a hefty chunk of change to account for just four (potentially five) players.

Even if someone with a big cap hit were to be moved for Kessel, new general manager Don Sweeney would be making a mistake that was far too common in the old regime of Peter Chiarelli.

The last thing Boston needs is another player with a long-term, big money contract and a no-trade/movement clause of any kind unless the Leafs are willing to retain a portion of his salary.

Trading With The Enemy

Milan Lucic Bruins
Boston may have to part ways with Lucic to acquire Kessel. (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

Trading within the division is a dangerous proposition, especially when it comes to star power. Consider what the Bruins would have to give up to acquire Kessel’s services. Boston would have to part ways with the likes of Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson, Malcolm Subban, and/or prospects just for number 81.

Kessel is a proven sniper with five 30-plus goal seasons in his eight year career but it carries the potential to blow up in Boston’s face with the assets they would give Toronto.

For as poorly as Lucic played this season, the six-foot-three-inch winger could rediscover the form that made him a 30-goal, 100-PIM power forward in the Stanley Cup championship season of 2010-11. The Bruins would be free of his $6 million cap number but it would be a dangerous game of chance to deal him within the division.

Same goes for Subban who is regarded as one of the NHL’s top goaltending prospects. The Leafs are in desperate need of goaltending and could look to Boston’s first-round selection in 2012 as their answer between the pipes if he was acquired.

To summarize, Boston would have to give up a lot of assets, present and future, for Kessel. Is it really a risk worth taking?

Same Old Story?

Claude Julien was Kessel’s coach for two of his first three seasons in the NHL. The fifth-overall pick of the Bruins back in 2006 was the first 30-goal scorer under his watch during the 2008-09 season, when Kessel lit the lamp 36 times. However, Julien questioned his dedication to defense and off-ice conditioning while in Boston. It was a tenuous relationship that many believe led to the sniper’s departure from TD Garden.

The potential is there for Julien and Kessel to clash once again over a willingness to play defense. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
The potential is there for Julien and Kessel to clash once again over defensive responsibilities. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Fast forward six years and Julien is still Boston’s bench boss. Defense is still priority number one with his hockey club. Kessel had the second-worst plus/minus rating this season (-34) which one could argue is more a testament to how poor the Leafs were defensively than him.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher is definitely an elite-level scorer but, as long as Julien is coaching the Bruins, Kessel will have to at least attempt to play defense or face an inquest from the coach.

The good news for the six-foot forward is that his former coach is under pressure to be more aggressive and attack-minded (i.e. not sitting on leads). Kessel would be the ideal player to fit the mold for what Sweeney wants but Julien will be keen to stick with his “defense-first” mentality.

The potential is there for an explosive sequel between the coach and his star player. It is a distraction the Bruins should want to avoid.

As stated earlier, the thought of Phil Kessel making a triumphant return to the club that first drafted him sounds great on paper.

Considering all the baggage he carries around, Sweeney and the Bruins should look elsewhere for an answer to their scoring problems.