Phil Kessel’s agent, Wade Arnott, was interviewed on SportsNet Fan590 yesterday and indicated that his client would like to finish his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He added that Kessel loves living in the city and really enjoys playing for the Leafs. Arnott also mentioned that he was really excited to come here when he received word he was going to be dealt four years ago.
This news is exciting for the franchise going forward and a little interesting as well. Kessel will have one year left on his deal after this season that will pay him $5.4M. However, the man who has led the team in scoring since he came over from the Boston Bruins is only the third highest paid player on the squad. Dion Phaneuf is earning $6.5M and Mikhail Grabovski is pulling in $5.5M. You would have to think, unless there is a major roster shakeup over the next year, Kessel should become the team’s highest paid player.
The intriguing part in all this, if what Arnott is saying is accurate, is how committed Kessel appears to be to Toronto. As an American born player, one might think the speedy right winger would want to be featured in a hockey market on his country’s home soil. Not to mention the media hype in Toronto doesn’t exactly connect with Kessel’s personality. He is more of a reserved and laid-back individual who seems like he would rather keep to himself. Not exactly going to happen when you play hockey in Toronto.
Kessel of course will always be the subject of scrutiny because of something he had nothing to do with. When Brian Burke acquired Kessel he gave up two first round picks and a second rounder to the Boston Bruins. The aforementioned first round picks have turned into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. While Leaf fans may be envious of Boston’s prospects, Kessel did not tell Burke to make such a move. All he can do is try to perform at a high level himself, and he has certainly done that in Toronto. Kessel has scored at least 30 goals in his first three seasons with the Leafs and had 82 points last year, good enough for sixth in league scoring. Even as he struggled to find the back of the net out of the gates this year, he still has 11 points in 13 games, which is tied for the team lead. Unfortunately, as long as he is in Toronto, many will have a hard time embracing him because it is challenging to look at Kessel and not see Seguin and Hamilton.
If Kessel does sign a long-term deal with the Leafs, that would be a huge step in changing the perception many players have of Toronto. Think about that for a second. When is the last time a major free agent signed with the Leafs? And I’m not talking about a big name who was way past his prime. It’s crazy that a franchise worth $1B has trouble attracting players, but that’s what living under a microscope and poor play on the ice will do for you.