Last week during our league-mandated break from the website, rumor central caught fire when a previously-unknown site posted a headline that Boston Bruins sniper Phil Kessel had been traded to the Blues. Over the course of the following 28 minutes, Kessel went from 'definitely traded,' to 'rumored to be traded' to 'definitely gone in exchange for Alex Pietrangelo and Lars Eller,' back to 'potentially' traded to 'probably not' traded to 'we're sorry we printed that headline, we made that shit up.'
It was interesting on a couple levels; the first being that internet rumors are clearly the cheapest, easiest way for a website to raise their hits and their visibility in an ever-increasing sea of blogger noise; the second being that I had just been watching a Bruins playoff game the previous night on the NHL Network and had actually thought to myself, "That Kessel kid is still unsigned, the Blues ought to make a play for him."
So yeah, I'm kinda like a witch.
And while the Kessel rumor fell in on itself faster than the Marian Hossa Fanclub, all the Kessel noise started up again tonight when the 21-year-old's agent announced that they were done negotiating with Boston and would be looking to the other 29 NHL clubs to sign a new contract. Initial reports name the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Nashville Predators as the three most-interested teams in the sweepstakes.
Any team that was to sign Kessel to a contract could have their offer matched by the Bruins, but Boston only has about $1.7 million in cap space and would have to clear the dollars to keep him. Kessel is believed to be seeking a contract in the vicinity of $4.5 to $5 million a season. If Boston were to decide to not match the offer sheet, they would receive compensation from the offering team to the tune of a 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd round pick in next year's draft. The other option would be for a team to trade with Boston for the rights to Kessel and then enjoy a preferred-status in those signing negotiations.
So, should the Blues wade into the deep waters and make a play for Kessel? First, a look at the player and how he'd fit on the Blues.
Back in the summer of 2006, the Blues held the first overall selection at the entry draft. Early season projections had Phil Kessel as a potential No. 1 pick. By the end of the season, however, Erik Johnson had become the consensus top available player. The Blues, who needed help everywhere, took the no-brainer pick in selecting the franchise defenseman to rebuild their team around. Kessel fell to Boston fifth overall, drafted behind Jordan Staal (PIT), Jonathan Toews (CHI) and Nicklas Backstrom (WAS).
Kessel immediately left the University of Minnesota for Boston where he has played three seasons, appearing in at least 70 games in each. He has played the second-most NHL games of his draft class (behind Staal) and has scored more goals (66) and more points (157) than anyone else from that class. Unfortunately for Kessel, the 24 games he has missed have dampened his totals, especially last season, when a mid-season bout of mono took him out for several games and slowed his point production (he was on pace for over 50 goals most of the first half of the year). Even more surprising was his mid-season battle with testicular cancer in his rookie season. After surgery to remove the cancer (and, of course, Lefty), he remarkably returned to play with the Bruins.
That's when we knew the kid had ball.
Kessel, mainly known for his goal-scoring, has increased his totals from 11 as a rookie to 19 as a sophomore to 36 last season, a total which we have already stated was impinged by his case of mono.
The knock on Kessel has long been the amorphous "not a good team guy" that too often gets tagged onto players who are simply quiet, shy and/or media unfriendly. A quick internet search (because the internet never lies) turns up far too few examples of bad teammate-dom and several examples of shyness.
Another knock on Kessel is his strange injury history. Because, really, how often does a 19-year-old get testicular cancer? (This unbelievably oblivious site notes that teenage testicular cancer is rare and that (what the fuck?) young girls are "unlikely" to get testicular cancer.) Mononucleosis, on the other hand, is quite common amongst the teenage/early twenties set.
The final knock on Kessel is the most recent: he has become the league's newest high-profile malcontent, deciding to negotiate via the media, as his agent announced that they're done waiting for the Bruins. Not exactly a Heatley-esque move, but it will undoubtedly be spun as yet another example of his "not a good team guy" status.
As for the Blues, the decision on whether to enter the Kessel Sweepstakes actually comes down to just a few factors, as far as we can tell.
Pro: The Blues can use a pure goal-scorer. Brad Boyes has shown the ability, but is a streaky scorer. Adding Kessel scares the hell out of every team in the division.
Pro: Kessel fits into the Blues' current rebuilding plan. This isn't acquiring an aging scorer or even a middle of his career player like Dany Heatley. Kessel is 21 years old and not likely even close to his career years yet. He's the same age as Erik Johnson and T.J. Oshie, two of the key components of the team's future.
Neutral: Kessel, who currently wears No. 81, is known to favor No. 18. If he were to come to St. Louis, would Silent Jay McClement defer to a higher-profile guy again, as he did when Paul Kariya claimed his No. 9? Clearly not a big factor, but honestly, this is the kind of thing that we lose sleep thinking about. Don't you?
Con: Getting Kessel is going to cost. Are the Blues better off to place a winning bid and lose their top three picks next summer or should they negotiate a deal with Boston for his rights and potentially lose two former-first round selections to acquire him?
Con: The contract is going to set the pace for every other youngster on the team. If Phil Kessel gets a deal worth $5 million a year, what happens when David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Johnson, Oshie, Eller and Pietrangelo all come to the negotiating table over the next three years? At some point, the $5 mil the team gives Kessel becomes a number that prevents the team from re-signing some of these players.
In the end, Blues management has some heavy factors to weigh before they even think about picking up the phone to call either the Bruins or Kessel's agent. Even if they were to decide to make the required sacrifices and accept the potential risks to their future salary cap issues and make a run at Phil Kessel, they are guaranteeing that at least a part of the fanbase would be turned off by the move. Too much money, too costly to the rebuilding, too much invested in one player.
But if the risk paid off and Kessel became the player that he has shown the potential to become, they could have a big win on their hands. Young, exciting, dangerous. That sells merch and it sells tickets. It also wins games.
Our guess is that the Blues' talent evaluators' opinions will be valued very highly before they were to make a move. What does this next year's draft class look like? Is it like the deep and studly and deep (and studly) 2003 draft or is it like the nearly completely worthless 1999 draft? Or does having Kessel in a Bluenote offset losing a pair like Pietrangelo and Eller - can the organizational depth handle a move like that?
Without further polluting the well with our own opinion, we'd like to know; what's your opinion? Should the Blues make a move and try to bring in Kessel, or is it not worth the sacrifice and risk?