Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out
The Boston Bruins, it seems, were determined to give Phil Kessel a swift kick in the drawers on his way out of The Hub.
He didn't want to play in Boston. He demanded a trade. He didn't train hard enough. He wouldn't backcheck. He hadn't forgiven the team for benching him during the 2008 playoffs. Claude Julien was mean to him. He was greedy. He was untruthful in denying ever asking for an exit visa out of town.
These were some of the grenades launched at Kessel over the weekend from Boston management after the trade that sent him from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs for two first round picks and a second.
Clearly, this was a trade Boston GM Peter Chiarelli didn't want to make but was forced into making by circumstance and the unrelenting pressure of Leafs GM Brian Burke. Burke's public acknowledgment that he had an offer sheet waiting for Kessel put a chill on the Kessel market that Chiarelli couldn't thaw. Teams like Minnesota and Nashville had interest in the speedy winger but weren't about to give up prospects and picks and then not be guaranteed to get the player.
So, after the trade, Chiarelli had to present the Bruins case in as positive a light as possible after initially refusing to make any comment at all on the day of the deal. His No. 1 priority was to make a strong argument that this trade wasn't about the Bruins being cheap and not wanting to pay Kessel, an accusation that was lobbed at the team for years.
Kessel, says Chiarelli, demanded a trade and wouldn't negotiate a contract, so that was that. Indications are that was indeed the situation, and Kessel's statement that he "never once" demanded a trade was really just semantics. Whether his agent made the demand or whether his unwillingness to talk contract was a passive aggressive strategy, it really doesn't matter now.
Clearly, Julien's coaching style was part of the issue, and so the most fascinating part of Kessel's career as a Leaf when it begins in two months or so will be how he and Ron Wilson are able to forge a working relationship. Wilson's a demanding coach, and he can be caustic and pointed in his public and private remarks when he feels it is warranted. San Jose officials make no bones about the fact they believe Wilson's riding of Patrick Marleau retarded Marleau's development.
Understand this. While Wilson and Burke are friends from years back, Burke now has more personal prestige invested in Kessel being successful than in Wilson, a coach Burke didn't hire. The Leaf GM will hope Wilson and Kessel get along very well, but it's a great deal more difficult to find top six forwards than head coaches.
Moreover, the three of them - Burke, Wilson and Kessel - may all be involved on the American entry in this winter's Olympics in Vancouver. They better all be able to work together.