Game Day: When Phil meets Tyler
It's been 1 year, 1 month and 9 days since Phil Kessel left Beantown for Hogtown. A first-round pick for the Bruins in 2006, Kessel spent three seasons in The Hub, racking up 66 goals and 60 assists in 222 games.
After the 2008-2009 season, in which the 21-year-old led the Bruins with a career-high 36 goals, Kessel was regarded as a cornerstone of the franchise. Unfortunately, as the summer bled into early fall, fate would turn this cornerstone into Gahden dust.
The Bruins, their visors pressed hard against the cap, could not see eye-to-eye with Kessel on a new contract. Ironically, Kessel had performed at a level his team could no longer afford in the new NHL. And set to become a free agent, in the midst of shoulder surgery, something soon became obvious: His days in Boston were over.
You know what happened next.
Brian Burke, who previously had tried to land the winger, opened the vault to the Leafs’ future and surrendered three draft picks. Two of those abstractions morphed into Tyler Seguin (first round) and Jared Knight (second round). The third will materialize next year, when the Bruins get another would-be Toronto first rounder.
The deal has been analyzed as much as the Zapruder film. Did the Leafs give up too much? Is Kessel worth two first-round picks? What prospect lurks on the grassy knoll this summer?
But at this precise moment in time, without knowing where the Leafs will finish and what the Bruins will get, a sensible observer might argue the trade is looking like the unlikeliest of NHL transactions: Everybody won.
Kessel is at the threshold of what could be an all-star campaign. He's currently tied for third in the league with 7 goals. He has 2 power play markers and 2 that gave his team a win, including one in overtime.
And as he demonstrated Tuesday against Florida, when he cranked up the engine and raced end-to-end with a highlight reel rush at the end of a shift, the guy is in remarkable shape, probably the best of his still blossoming career.
In Seguin, meanwhile, the Bruins have an 18-year-old who is widely regarded as a future star. While it's still too early to draw any direct Phil versus Tyler comparisons – the Bruins rookie may yet return to junior in the days ahead – fans for both teams have no reason to lose sleep over this trade.
As for tonight, the Leafs haven't won in Boston since October 23, 2008. If this is to change, they will need their high-priced sniper to overcome the gun-shy tendencies he's exhibited against his former team.
In short: It is time for Phil Kessel to silence the boo birds in Boston. It is time for him to fill Bruin hearts with regret.
In six games last season, Kessel picked up 1 assist. More troubling, he was -5, the worst +/- on the Leafs. But more than a year later, the psychological weight of the trade has lightened and Kessel is flanked with new teammates. (To fully appreciate just how much the Leafs have changed, check out the "Goalie Matchup" and "Scoring Leaders" on the right side of this preview. Obviously, old data was accidentally uploaded. Still, just seeing Toskala's mugshot made me panic and choke on my morning toast.)
Beyond the Kessel-Seguin intrigue, there are other players who will be facing off against former teammates, including Kris Versteeg. The Bruins are pumped. The Leafs are ready. It promises to be a special night for all involved.
PHOTO: COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR