There seems to be a commonly held perception that Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs hold the leverage in the on-going saga of Phil Kessel. I’m not so sure.
Kessel, a restricted free agent (RFA), is looking for a multi-year deal north of $4 million annually while the Bruins have just $2M in cap room to spare.
It sounds like the perfect scenario for the Leafs. They tender an RFA contract meeting Kessel’s salary demands, the Bruins are in tough to match, and the Leafs get a 21 year old, 30+ goal scorer for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft pick. Not only that, but the Blue and White poach a key part of a divisional rival’s line-up.
Sadly for the Leafs, the Bruins’ cap situation isn’t quite that dire. Because of Kessel's off-season shoulder surgery, Chiarelli can use the CBA’s Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception to park Kessel and his big shiny new contract on the long-term injury reserve list. Doing so not only permits the Bruins to go over the cap, they don't have to address how Kessel’s contract affects the salary cap until Kessel is ready to return.
Unfortunately for Burke and the Leafs, Kessel isn’t due back until late November or early December. which is more than enough time for Chirarelli to explore his options to find an additional million or two in cap room.
With the IR exception in mind, I can understand why Chiarelli is confident he can match any RFA offer and why the Kessel rumours have turned away from RFA offer sheets to a trade.
For those of you who hate plain language writing, the CBA explains it thusly:
50.10 (d) VII The replacement Player Salary and Bonuses for any Player(s) that replace(s) an unfit-to-play Player may be added to the Club's Averaged Club Salary until such time as the Club's Averaged Club Salary reaches the Upper Limit. A Club may then exceed the Upper Limit due to the addition of replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of Players who have replaced an unfit-to-play Player, provided, however, that when the unfit-to-play player is once again fit to play (including any period such Player is on a Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan to another league), the Club shall be required to once again reduce its Averaged Club Salary to a level at or below the Upper Limit prior to the Player being able to rejoin the Club.