Bruins unload Kessel

Winger traded to Leafs for 3 picks - two No. 1s

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / September 19, 2009

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Unable to come to contract terms with Phil Kessel, and confident they can live well and prosper despite the loss of his scoring punch, the Bruins last night shipped the right wing to the Maple Leafs for three draft picks, a pair of first-round choices and a second-round pick.

Nearly simultaneously with acquiring Kessel’s rights, the Leafs signed the 21-year-old US Olympic team candidate to a five-year contract worth $27 million, translating to a $5.4 million cap hit for the fleet-footed former first-round pick.

“We are pretty excited,’’ said Leafs general manager Brian Burke, noting that he consummated the deal with his Boston counterpart, Peter Chiarelli, at approximately 6 p.m. “I really like him. I think 36 goals [Kessel’s total in 2008-09] is just a starting point for Phil Kessel. I think he can improve on that. He has true breakaway speed and he’s a very good shootout player - that’s something that is very important in our league today.’’

Kessel, who became a restricted free agent July 1 after three seasons in Boston, notified the Bruins within the last two weeks that he had no intention of re-signing with the franchise that selected him fifth overall in the 2006 draft. It then became equally apparent, contrary to numerous media reports and objections by his agent, that his primary intention was to sign with the Leafs, who remained in desperate need of scoring punch despite an extreme offseason makeover in which they added needed grit and muscle to their previously inept lineup.

The Bruins, who will hold a news conference this morning at which time Chiarelli will address the trade, now own Toronto’s first-round picks in 2010 and 2011 and the Leafs’ second-round pick in 2010. Had the Leafs simply signed Kessel to an offer sheet, the Bruins would have landed Kessel for first-, second- and third-round picks. But rather than go that route, Burke brokered a deal with Chiarelli, the framework of which the two worked out earlier this month when they met in a tete-a-tete at the Four’s, the well-known Canal Street eatery where pictures of the Bruins’ glory days adorn the walls.

Chiarelli, who thought he had a deal in place with the Leafs for Kessel in June, did not return an interview request last night.

“Peter Chiarelli has done as good a job as anyone in the league the last two years,’’ noted Burke, who was one of Chiarelli’s outspoken proponents for the Boston job when it became available in the spring of 2006. “The reason Phil Kessel is available in the first place is because of the success the Bruins have had in recent years, much like we had in Anaheim during my time there. He’s done a lot of hard work for that franchise and it has paid off. We paid a huge price for this player.’’

Chiarelli, in a story in yesterday’s Globe, mused that a deal for Kessel could be “imminent’’ and conjectured that a possible resolution could be a three-way deal. Burke last night noted that Chiarelli worked hard in attempting to acquire a ready-to-play roster player for Kessel prior to deciding to trade him to Toronto.

Earlier in the day, a source familiar with Boston’s wish list confirmed that the Bruins at one time hoped to swing a three-way deal for Brandon Dubinsky, the Ranger pivot who remains a restricted free agent. However, the Leafs didn’t have the assets to entice the Rangers to deal Dubinsky to Toronto. Perhaps it was that dead end that ultimately convinced Chiarelli to take the best offer available, flipping Kessel to the division-rival Leafs.

Kessel, who had offseason shoulder surgery, is expected to line up with either John Mitchell or Matt Stajan as his center. Here in the Hub, he had elite pivot Marc Savard feeding him on the wing, which helped Kessel pop in his career-high 36 goals. It remains to be seen if he can work the same scoring magic with a less-skilled centerman.

Burke and Chiarelli each thought they had a swap made for Kessel at the June draft in Montreal, only to see the deal cave in around a misunderstanding between the two Harvard alums. Kessel would have moved to the Leafs then for veteran backliner Tomas Kaberle, but Burke and Chiarelli called a halt to the deal when they realized they misunderstood one another on what first-round draft picks to include. Some 10 weeks later, the two bright GMs finally made their deal.

The Bruins, who look destined to open the season with $1.7 million in available cap space, now own two first-round picks in the next June’s draft.

Chiarelli said during Thursday night’s Town Meeting with season ticket-holders at the Garden that he didn’t believe his club would have a hard time replacing Kessel’s offense. Marco Sturm, injured much of last season, will be counted on to fill some of the scoring void.

Kessel, in his three years here, registered 66 goals. He told a Globe reporter in June that his contract would be finalized prior to Oct. 1 and that the deal signed by his now former teammate, David Krejci, worth slightly less than $4 million a year, would have no impact on his contract.

In the end, Kessel was correct. He got his dough. And Bruins fans, some of them still angry that then-GM Harry Sinden didn’t have enough scorers in his lineup when the Bruins made it to the Cup final in ’88 and ’90, can pick Chiarelli apart in perpetuity after dealing away his leading goal scorer.

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