Time to Decide
It's pretty clear the Phil Kessel situation is coming to a head.
In fact, sources indicate that if Kessel isn't traded in the next 48 hours, the Maple Leafs may be prepared to lay down an offer sheet in order to bring the issue to a conclusion.
All along, the Bruins have said they will match any offer for the 21-year-old restricted free agent. At the same time, doing so would require the B's significantly restructure their roster given that they have only $1.7 million in cap space and a Kessel deal is expected to carry with it a cap hit of between $5 million and $5.5 million annually. The Bruins would have to keep Kessel on the books for a least a year if they matched, so they couldn't match and then turn around and move him elsewhere.
The other problem for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is that an offer sheet could be heavily front loaded, possibly for as much as $10 million in the first year.
Other teams have been mentioned as being in the running, but that may not really be the case. Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher did have brief talks with Chiarelli about Kessel weeks ago, but the Wild signed Petr Sykora to a one-year, $1.6 million contract today and are no longer interested in Kessel.
Nashville would like to be a potential destination, but its believed Kessel doesn't want to sign there, leaving the Preds in the predicament of possibly trading away assets to get the winger, then being hit with an offer sheet themselves.
The other team is believed to be the Rangers, who are grappling themselves with signing centre Brandon Dubinsky, albeit for a lot less money.
The Leafs are believed to have offered two first round picks and a second - more than the free agent compensation of a first, second and third - but could amend that to involve young players. Nazem Kadri, however, is out, and probably Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson are too since GM Brian Burke knows future attempts to sign NCAA free agents would be damaged if he dealt either Bozak or Hanson just months after signing them.
Winger Viktor Stalberg or forward Jiri Tlusty are possibles, but the Bruins would likely view either as anything but a guaranteed contributor for this season. Tomas Kaberle, included in trade talks between the two clubs in June, now has an active no-trade clause again.
For the Leafs, waiting much longer carries with it the risk that other teams might suffer injuries and therefore join in the bidding. So the likeliehood is that this weekend will see Kessel either traded or tendered an offer sheet.
Kessel is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and won't play until mid-November. But he should know the identity of his new team within days.