Montreal Canadiens fans know a thing or two about what can happen when you win the East one year and expect the world the next. We also know how losing one key player can change the face of a PP and a team.
So when I look at how the Boston Bruins (let's be honest – our chief rivals) are doing this summer, it's heartening to see them making some moves that bring aboard risk rather than remove it.
In the NHL news morass that is August, Phil Kessel's salary negotiation is one of the few stories that I will be keeping a keen eye on. I say that because I think Phil Kessel is a key player for the Bruins, and as such, a key player to watch for the Canadiens as they play the Bruins and chase or try to hold off the Bruins in the standings.
Phil Kessel's value
Projected to be a top draft pick because of his offensive skills, Phil cracked the NHL at age 19 and has been steadily improving ever since. Last year as a 21-year old Kessel scored 36 goals and in the process catapulted his ego into the upper echelons of the NHL.
I did not watch every Bruins game of last season, nor do I know much about Phil Kessel as a teammate; but from an outsider's point of view he seems like a pretty valuable player. Bad attitude or not, Phil Kessel is a baby in the NHL – a baby with 66 career goals before most his age are even out of college.
His value can also shown in the wins column. The Bruins success from last season (the extraordinary part of it, not the consistent part) came during a 27-game run through November and December where they amassed 24 wins and 49 points. Phil Keseel wasn't the only player to be firing during that stretch, but he was involved. Over the 27 games, he scored 17 goals and 15 assists. He also strung together a very respectable 18-game point streak during that time.
I've seen Bruins fans give him a hard time for his early production followed by months at a lesser clip. Some have even said he's not the playoff player they want. But I can tell you form watching 2 straight years of Kessel and Bruins playoff hockey that he was the Bruin I feared most. In 2007-08, the Bruins were a scoring comedy when he was benched and only came to life in the series when Julien baked down and put Phil back in. IN the 2008-09 sweep, he was always there – 4 goals and 2 assists not too shabby an output in my books.
The Bruins mistakes
If the Bruins did make mistakes (and I think they have done) they were in piling up so much salary that Phil Kessel's potential salary will push them over the top of this year's cap. To even risk losing a player like Kessel is playing with fire, to make it almost the most realistic outcome is not very good planning at all.
They are in this position thanks to some questionable moves over the past few seasons.
Their most recent move in question would be the addition of Derek Morris ($3.3 million) at the expense of Aaron Ward ($2.5 million). Morris is nothing bu a question mark himself after a couple of lacklustre seasons in Phoenix. The New York Rangers who desperately need an offensive boost decided Morris – a player they paid dearly for – wasn't worth keeping even at less money.
Prior to that signing, the Bruins were quiet, adding only the innocuous (salary cap-wise) Steve Begin. But in the spring, they broke the bank for David Krejci on what can only be termed an unnecessarily high contract. Yes, Krejci had a great season and yes he appears to be a good player. However, a player two years into an NHL career and one-year removed from a 6-goal effort does not need to be the recipient of a $4 million contract – especially in a tight cap situation.
Their woes are greater still when you consider they now have 3 buyouts on the cards for several million and have somehow managed to bring aboard a goalie with all of 244 minutes of NHL experience at the potential price tag of $3.2 millions a season.
None of these mistakes will mean anything next to the potential loss of Phil Kessel. Where overpaid backups and slumping 3rd years are a pain, they can be managed. Losing a 36-goalscorer when the alternatives are called Sturm, Ryder and Kobasew is downright dangerous.
Heartening to Habs fans
All of this, though it must be painful for a fan of said team, is great stuff for the Canadiens and their fans. While we have to question whether our own team will be better or worse, it's nice to know that relative improvement is still looking good.
I can tell you that last year's Bruins team was an absolute nightmare opponent. They knew how to blanket our team and had the power to counter attack with graceful ease. Any change was going to be good. Losing their most talented goalscorer and their most unpredictable forward (Kessel) would make games against the Bruins easier for Martin's Habs – and might just be the best news to come from Boston for a Habs fan since early 2008.