We've praised his speed, have been in awe of his sniping precision and hung onto every offseason rumor. But as talks between Phil Kessel and the Bruins appear to be diminishing, the next thing Hub fans may see the young winger do is take a one way ticket out of town.
Although the latest reports indicate that Kessel is not done wearing Black and Gold, negotiations between camp Kessel and general manager Peter Chiarelli appeared to hit dead ends this entire offseason.
The loss of Kessel would be a pretty devastating blow as the soft-spoken kid was pegged as the next big thing before his rookie season in 2006 when he was just 18 years old. Last season, Kessel brought his game up to the next level and lived up to the hype as he led the B's with 36 goals — 12th most in the NHL. The 6-foot goal-scoring machine was a vital cog in the Bruins' 2008-09 success and Chiarelli has stressed that he and the B's want Kessel back.
“Phil’s a terrific young player, but I’m responsible to our team," the GM said in a recent news conference. "I’ve said
publicly and I’ll say it again: I want Phil to be on our team. I’ll do
everything I can do to put him on our team — within reason and within the
balance that I’m talking about. If it means moving players, I’ll do it; if it
means matching offer sheets, I’ll do it.”
But what if Kessel doesn't want to come back? What if the price is too low? There are many questions involved in the Kessel saga but here's one of extreme importance: What will the Boston offense look like without him?
Thanks to a few key factors, the B's attack will hold up just fine if Phil flees the Hub.
First, Marco Sturm is returning the lineup and will be back on the left flank in any of the first three lines. Lest you forget, Sturm had six straight 20-plus goal seasons prior to last year's injury-shortened campaign. In three healthy years since joining the B's in 2005, Sturm potted 77 goals and 56 assists in 207 games.
Second, Blake Wheeler — a bulkier, more experienced Blake Wheeler — is hungry for more. Wheels was fifth among NHL rookies in scoring last season with 21 tallies and had the second highest plus-minus rating of a plus-36. The Minnesota native gained around 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame this offseason to put him at roughly 205 pounds. Last year, Wheeler slowly learned how to use his body against NHL defenders racking up just 46 penalty minutes, a number he'll be sure to top this coming season with more weight, confidence and experience in the corners. The added weight will also keep last season's NHL Youngstars Game MVP from burning out. Last year, Wheeler was ineffective in the postseason, banking no points in the team's first eight contests before becoming a healthy scratch in each of the last three.
Finally, if Kessel departs, it will free up a spot on the balanced roster for such young forwards as Vladimir Sobotka or Mikko Lehtonen to get some ice time. Sobotka would be the likely choice for action despite being a center. The 22-year-old has been called up for considerable action in each of the last two seasons, where he's notched just 12 points in 73 combined games. Kessel's departure could be a great opportunity for the tenacious fore-checker and faceoff artist who would could add a scoring touch to the fourth line with Shawn Thornton and newcomer Steve Begin, who can shift to the wing. Byron Bitz, the workhorse power-wing pegged for the fourth line, could be bumped up to the third string to add presence in the corners.