Kalman’s Column: Keeping Kessel must come next

kessel_opeecheeThere’s such a clamoring to trade Phil Kessel, you’d think the guy had an A-Rod tattoo across his back.

But flat out, Kessel should not be traded. And now that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has locked up center David Krejci for a reasonable cap hit over the next three years, his next mission should be to retain Kessel’s services at similar compensation and watch the offensive magic that should ensue over the next three years. It’s as simple as planting a seed, watering it and watching it grow.

Offensive talents like Kessel come around about as often as a bill to cut taxes makes its way through the State House. Enough teams failed to see the player’s brilliance back in the ’06 draft so that he landed in the Bruins’ lap. As you watch the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs and see the difference offensive talents like Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin make in tightly checked, evenly matched contests, you realize that puck-moving defensemen are great but they’re efforts go to waste without some offensive support.

Obviously it’s going to take Kessel and his representatives understanding the times we live in — with the salary cap and a lagging economy — to get this done. Kessel’s going to have to realize that the grass is always greener, but in a sports hotbed like Boston, under head coach Claude Julien, on a team with the likes of Krejci, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard around him, he can thrive — and have a legitimate Cup chance year in and year out — here better than anywhere else. That’s what Krejci did today, that’s what Franzen did in Detroit earlier.

The onus is on the Bruins to convince Kessel of all of the above. And it’s in their best interest to do so. If this season, regular season and playoffs, have taught us anything it’s that four years after the lockout the game is hitting its stride. Defensemen and coaches have completely adjusted to the enforcement of the rules, and even though the tweaks to the game were meant to make it easier to score, putting the puck in the back of the net on a nightly basis is still a gift that rare players hold. It’s also become more important to have players that can create their own chances, weave through different defensive schemes with blazing speed, and punish teams that just back off and try to clog the front of the net and block shots. Kessel has shown flashes of being able to do that all before he’s even reached his 22nd birthday. Imagine what he’ll be able to do as he continues to get stronger and gains more experience.

An extra full year of NHL experience and a goal total that almost reached 40 probably makes Kessel worthy of a little more money that Krejci will be getting. But that shouldn’t be a hindrance to the Bruins’ task at hand. Even if it means frontloading a contract so that Kessel makes more now and takes less later, but still carries a cap hit of around $4, $4.25 million, Boston should make sure Kessel remains part of its foundation. If he gets Kessel in the mix at that number, Chiarelli should still have enough to get his two other restricted free agents, Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz, done, plus retain or add a veteran unrestricted free agent or two for a fourth line or third pair.

The cap might decrease a little more next year than this, but it’s still important to hang onto talent as precious as Kessel’s. A contract similar to the one suggested above won’t cause regret no matter the spending limit next season. There will be plenty of ways to get below the new maximum if necessary.

For the here and now, it’s about winning the Cup. And for that, the Bruins need as much talent as they can accumulate. Trading Kessel would greatly deter the Bruins’ pursuit of that goal.

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