07 Oct 2009 by Toronto Maple Leafsin
Unless the Toronto Maple Leafs start winning pretty soon, GM Brian Burke’s recent trade with the Boston Bruins for injured 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel is going to drastically swing in favour of the Beantowners.
Burke gave up two first round picks and a second rounder for the 21-year-old forward and then promptly signed him to a five-year $27 million contract. The problem is, he let his personal feelings interfere with his job, which is trying to improve the team at the lowest cost possible.
Burke was in the driver’s seat all along when it came to the deal as the restricted free agent Kessel flat out told the Bruins he had no interest in playing for them anymore. In fact, even if Kessel had wanted to stay with the team, it still didn’t seem likely to happen as Boston was basically already at the salary cap. This is when Burke should have pounced and tendered an offer sheet to Kessel as there’s no way the Bruins would have been able to match it unless they did some serious salary juggling to make room for Kessel’s contract, especially at over $5 million a year.
The problem is, Burke let his personal feelings enter the transaction and the Leafs paid for it by trading away an extra first round pick, which could turn out to be in the top eight if the club doesn’t turn the ship around over the next season. If Burke would have went to Kessel with an offer sheet and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli couldn’t match it, Boston would have only received a first, second, and third round pick for losing him.
While Kessel may turn out to be a very productive player for the Leafs in the future, Burke should have at least tried to get him for lower draft picks. He basically had the Bruins at his mercy, but his dislike for offer sheets clouded his vision and it cost the club more than it should have. What most fans also forget is that Burke made a deal with Chiarelli before acquiring Kessel in which he gave up a second and third round pick to Boston in return for a second rounder, therefore losing another draft pick in the process.
Burke’s dislike for offer sheets stems back to the summer of 2007 when he was the GM of Anaheim and his Edmonton Oilers’ counterpart Kevin Lowe tendered a $21.25 million, five-year offer sheet to Ducks’ restricted free agent forward Dustin Penner. Burke couldn’t match the offer and although he received adequate compensation in the way of draft picks, he’s been crying about it ever since.
But offering contracts to restricted free agents is well within the rules. However, it’s hardly utilized these days. It is the strategy Brian Burke should have used to land the player the Leafs wanted while retaining an all-important first round draft pick. This is especially true while trading for an injured player. While Kessel may come back as strong as ever, there’s also a chance his shoulder surgery won’t allow him to shoot the puck like he used to. If Burke is getting paid to improve the Leafs in the most effective manner, he didn’t really do a good job of it with the Kessel deal.