Saturday, 5 September 2009

It Seemed Odd Until...

That man to the left has good reason to smile. He essentially put himself into a position today to acquire an impact player without giving up anyone from his roster. Brian Burke is far from being a slouch when it comes to knowing the CBA and how to manipulate its nuances. He is building the Maple Leafs from the ground up in his mold, and every move has his fingerprints all over them. Being the GM of the American Olympic team, he has also had a great opportunity to watch a lot of good players, and potentially scout one player he has had significant interest in this summer.

There were swirlings around the opening of free agency where the Maple Leafs were rumoured to have offered up Tomas Kaberle to the Boston Bruins for restricted free agent Phil Kessel. According to all the reports, offers and counter-offers were made by both teams, but neither side could come up with a deal that satisfied the other side.

Today, Brian Burke acquired the Leafs' oft-traded 2010 second-round draft pick from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 2011 third-round pick and a 2011 second-round that originally belonged to Calgary. Yes, you read that correctly. A 2010 second-round pick that was originally owned by Toronto was re-acquired for an acquired draft pick and a third-round pick.

You might be asking yourself why this is news. After all, it's just shuffling of paper right now, and none of the draft picks mean a whole heck of a lot until we see where the two teams finish their seasons. Well, TSN's Bob McKenzie filled in the blanks, and the picture became clear.

With the acquisition of the 2010 second-round pick today, the Leafs have their 2010 first-, second-, and third-round picks back in the fold. This is the price that a team is required to pay for submitting an offer sheet to a restricted free agent. If this is any indication, Phil Kessel is still squarely on Brian Burke's radar. He watched the youngster take part in the American Olympic orientation camp, and certainly was taking notes. As we know from earlier summer proceedings, Burke wants Kessel on his roster, but also wants to hold on to Kaberle as he may be the only true offensive defenceman in the Leafs' camp.

And now he can have both. Without sacrificing anything substantial.

When the season starts this season, Phil Kessel will be 22 years-old. The Maple Leafs are gunning for a playoff spot, and will most likely not be drafting as one of the bottom three teams. How many mid-round first-round draft picks are ready to jump in and make an impact on a team like Phil Kessel can? Taylor Hall is an amazing young player, but even he might need some development time. Next year's draft class isn't particularly deep at this point, so offering up three draft picks in 2010 for a guy who can step in and score 20, 30, or even 40 goals while having three years of NHL experience under his belt is a smart move, albeit a calculated risk.

The Leafs can swoop in, offer Kessel a bundle of money over a pile of years that Boston most likely will not match due to their salary cap problems, and hand back three draft picks that may or may not produce three NHL players. Seems like a no-brainer to me, doesn't it?

Then again, you may hear the pot calling the kettle black over this. I believe Brian Burke took Kevin Lowe to task over his five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet to Dustin Penner in the summer of 2007. At the time, Burke stated,

"I have no problem with offer sheets, they are part of the CBA. I think it's a tool certainly a team is entitled to use. My issue here is this is the second time this year in my opinion Edmonton have offered a grossly inflated salary for a player, and it impacts on all 30 teams and I think it's an act of desperation by a general manager who is fighting to keep his job."
Now, I'm not suggesting that Brian Burke will offer up a king's ransom to get Kessel under contract, but you know the Kessel party is asking for more than just some measly rookie base salary.

Comparatively, Kessel could stick it to Brian Burke if he was so inclined. Penner had posted 29 goals and 16 assists in 82 games for the Ducks when Kevin Lowe came calling with a truckload of money. Last season, Kessel notched 36 goals and 24 assists in 70 games for the Bruins, fifteen points better than what Penner had done when he scored his cash windfall. The Leafs have the money to play with if it comes to that kind of deal, so the Kessel party certainly can make a case.

Perhaps the only thing that Brian Burke needs to worry about with this trade today is the potential egg on his face. No one likes a hypocrite, and that's potentially what Brian Burke will be if he signs Kessel to a deal that includes a massive raise. It may be a deserved raise, but Kevin Lowe could argue that the Penner deal was justifiable at the time as well.

This whole thing should sort itself out shortly. In the meantime, I'm going to go ahead and suggest that Leaf fans get ready for a wild ride this winter.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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