When the Maple Leafs take the ice at the TD Garden on Tuesday, Boston fans will get yet another look at former Bruin forward Phil Kessel. The key figure in the last trade between the two Original Six rivals is sure to be a target of the fans' wrath once again.
But the Garden faithful may also want to take a look at another Leaf. Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle could be the next target on Boston's wish list. The Bruins' biggest need with the trade deadline less than two weeks away is to add a veteran puck-mover to the blue line.
Kaberle would fit the bill. And despite his no-trade clause, Toronto is willing to listen to offers and Kaberle might finally be willing to consent to a deal and escape the dysfunctional Leafs for a chance at a postseason run.
The Bruins have the picks and prospects necessary to make a run at a player like Kaberle, but it's not a simple as lining up an available player and the assets it would take to acquire him.
These teams have a history — a messy history — and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and Toronto counterpart Brian Burke aren't the most likely trading partners after the fallout from the Kessel deal.
The Bruins got three high draft picks in exchange for the enigmatic Kessel. They've cashed in two already with No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin and second-rounder Jared Knight last June, and still own the rights to Toronto's first-rounder this year, which appears destined to be another lottery selection.
Seguin has had his own issues, as he's struggled a bit in his first pro season and was recently a healthy scratch for two straight games. But he remains a key foundation piece for the franchise's future, while Knight has rocketed up the Bruins' prospect depth chart with a strong year in the OHL.
Seguin has also managed a goal and an assist in his first three games against the Leafs, with the goal in October's 2-0 win in Boston leading to Kessel being serenaded with derisive chants of "Thank You, Kessel" by the Garden faithful.
Kessel, meanwhile, has yet to score a goal against his former team, with 0-1-1 totals and a minus-6 rating in nine games against Boston. He hasn't helped make the trade look any better with his play against anyone else of late either. Kessel has no goals in his last 14 games, and if he fails to score again in Boston on Tuesday, he'll match the longest drought of his career.
Kessel isn't making up for his lack of scoring in other areas. Never known as a physical player, Kessel gone out of his way even more than usual to avoid contact this year with just eight hits in 56 games. He's also a minus-19 on the season. Only seven of the 834 players who have seen action in the NHL this year have a worse plus/minus.
Those defensive deficiencies led to one of the classic quotes of the season, when Toronto coach Ron Wilson referred to Kessel and Leafs defenseman Brett Lebda, who is minus-17 in just 25 games, by saying, "They were headed in the wrong direction, unless you were trying for the Masters green jacket."
While Wilson may quip about the struggling winger to reporters, Kessel made waves earlier this month by claiming that he and Wilson spent little time actually speaking to each other, then hinting that he might already want out of Toronto less than two seasons into a five-year, $27-million deal.
"No, me and Ron don't really talk," Kessel told reporters on Feb. 6. "So that's all I've got to say about that.
"We've got to change something, so I'm not sure if that's it, but maybe," Kessel added of Wilson's shuffling of the lines that day. "I don't know. I don't really know what to say about [the scoring drought] anymore. I'm trying. Obviously it's not going right. Like I said, might not be working out here. What are you going to do?"
There's not much the Leafs can do with Kessel at this point, except hope that he finds a way out of his slump and gets on one of his hot streaks again. Burke is too invested in him to consider moving him, and the Leafs GM has shown no inclination to make a change behind the bench.
But the worse things get for Kessel in Toronto, the less likely it becomes that the Bruins can go back to that well again, no matter how good a fit Kaberle might be on their blue line. It would take a massive overpayment to get Burke to ship another key piece to a division rival. Chiarelli has shown over the years that he's not the type to overspend like that, especially when it comes to mortgaging a big chunk of the future for a 32-year-old defenseman due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
So Bruins fans can take another look, and a few more verbal jabs, at the past when Kessel takes the ice on Tuesday. They can also get a glimpse of what could be the missing piece for the defense, but they shouldn't get too attached. Kaberle's not likely to be making a more permanent stop in Boston this season.
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