Hypocrite or Not?

After months of speculation, Brian Burke got his man. Phil Kessel was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a first and a second round pick in 2010, along with a first round pick in 2011. It's a pressure trade that Boston had no choice but to make and for a player like Kessel, had Boston been in a different cap situation, should have fetched more in return.

For many fans in Edmonton, the way this trade went down is subject to comment and likely much debate. How is it, that a GM (Brian Burke) who so publicly attacks another GM (Kevin Lowe) for the manner in which he employs a hockey player, can do everything but actually submit an RFA offer sheet without finding himself subject to the same set of public tyranny? Simple. When your name is Brian Burke, apparently the same rules don't apply.

I'll start this off by saying, I'm a fan of what Burke is doing in Toronto. I don't think they've significantly improved their ability to make the playoffs, but Kessel gives them much needed fire power upfront and Burke has made his team much tougher to play against with the defensive corps he's put together. He's well on the way to improving that team in strides.

That said, let's take a look at how this trade finally came to fruition.

Burke tried to trade for Kessel at the NHL Draft. He couldn't make the deal because he wasn't willing to give up his first round draft pick and Tomas Kaberle. In similar fashion, before Lowe was labeled the GM who ruined hockey by Burke; Lowe explored methods to obtain a goal scorer. Through free agency and trades, he wasn't able to accomplish it. My point being, an RFA offer was neither's first choice.

As the summer wore on, Burke kept a close eye on the situation in Boston. The Bruins did, in a way, create their own problems and introduction to disaster when they added Derek Morris at the expense of salary cap space, but Burke was well aware of what Boston could and couldn't do salary wise as was Lowe when he made an offer to Dustin Penner.

When the conversations with the Bruins didn't amount to a done deal, Burke went out and put the pieces together to make an RFA offer. I don't believe Burke had intended to make an offer at that point, and if you ask, he'll probably deny his plan to do so, however; it was always Burke's goal to use the ability to make an RFA offer as leverage to convince the Bruins to move a player they'd have liked to keep on their roster, but couldn't afford. 'Don't trade him to me, I'll make an offer' was his thinking. It's near impossible to deny such a large coincidence at this point.

Side Note** Funny, I remember the same issue in Anaheim as the Ducks wanted to keep Penner but couldn't afford the $4.25 million he was offered by the Oilers and didn't feel he was worth that much. At the time, Burke immediately bashed Lowe for inflating the prices of players not worth money based on one year of production. He hid behind the fact that he didn't think offer sheets were necessarily a bad thing, but that offering money like what the Oilers did Penner was beyond reasonable. I always wondered what Burke thought reasonable would have been... just enough to allow Anaheim to match it and keep the team under the cap? I guess we'll never really know.

Penner is no Kessel, and I don't for one second want to suggest that to this point Penner has proven to be worth the value of his pay scale; but hmmm... did Kessel ever eclipse 37 points before last years break out 36 goals? Nope. Not to mention, Kessel has a reputation for being a poor teammate, a bit injury prone and somewhat of a me first style player and poor leader. It's likely Kessel will produce at high levels again, but there's no pattern yet to prove it.

Had this trade not gone through, we'd have really found out if Burke is what he says he is -- blunt and in your face, but honest. To me it doesn't matter. He paid Kessel $5.4 million over 5 years. That's far more than he's proven to be worth at this point. Toronto doesn't have anywhere near the depth the Bruins do and as a Maple Leaf, Kessel will lack the linemates to set him up and he'll be asked to do a lot more on his own that ever before. It will be interesting to see if he can do it.

Burke never got around to making the RFA offer, but had we not seen this trade, my money says he'd have gotten there. While Kessel's new salary will be more highly defended by many than Dustin Penner, it's a gross overpayment in an NHL where bargains are everywhere. I'll argue that even for the Oilers who have to overpay almost everyone, $5.4 million is more than they'd have offered up for Kessel like Toronto did. Especially after he'd gone out and said how badly he wanted to be a Maple Leaf.

On a completely unrelated note: I'm glad to see Comrie was able to prove me right. He had a huge night and was motivated like no one else playing in the NHL last night. Good for him, and the fans who realized it's about hockey, effort and wins. Despite Comrie's past, he's here to help in all three departments.


Nice connection between the two events. It makes one cynical of anything that seems like the truth - in fact, one gets the sense that it is all show. The posturing is less than sincere. Of course, that situation is better than believing that Burke doesn't see the irony in all this posturing. If this were true, then Burke is really not very smart at all.

So good point in making this connection. Maybe Kevin Lowe's anger was just being tired of all the pretend stupidity.

September 19, 2009 at 3:58 PM comment-delete

Kessel has only had 1 injury in his career. I hardly count Testicular cancer as being "Injury Prone".

And Kessel is 21 years old. How many good seasons should he have?

And BTW, Columbus gave Nash a contract similar to Kessel's after only 1 strong season and same with Carter in Philly.

This talk of Savard making Kessel is silly. A few years ago everyone said the same about Kovalchuk making Savard in Atlanta before he signed in Boston.

Make no mistake, Boston will miss Kessel badly. Despite their great "Depth", no one scored more goals on the team than Kessl last year, and he led the team in scoring in the playoffs.

September 20, 2009 at 5:27 AM comment-delete

@ anonymous

I too wouldn't suggest that Testicular cancer is injury prone, but if you look at Kessel's junior career and NHL career, he's not exactly been the pillar of reliable.

You're comparisons to Nash and Carter don't really hold water to my argument of the article since at $7.8 million Nash should also be looked at as an overpayment, and only last year did Carter show himself to be worth the $5 million, which at the time of signing it could have been a risk.

I'm not suggesting GM's aren't making the same mistakes, but GM's didn't have a wide open market of available free agents like they do this year. I don't how you could dispute that.

Boston might miss Kessel. Any team would miss someone who scored Kessels amount of goals. But that doesn't make signing Kessel to that size of a contract that right thing to do.

But by all means we can agree to disagree. That said, this article wasn't really about Kessel, but about Burke. Perhaps the title might have not been subtle enough.

September 20, 2009 at 8:10 PM comment-delete

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