TORONTO – Maple Leafs fans hoping to see Phil Kessel in blue and white are probably out of luck.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke quashed rumours Tuesday the Leafs were set to put together an offer sheet for the 21-year-old forward. Kessel, a restricted free agent, remains unsigned as the Bruins prepare to start training camp this week.
The Maple Leafs reacquired their second-round pick in the 2010 draft from Boston earlier this week for second-and third-round picks in 2011 – a move that allows them to tender an offer sheet to a restricted free agent. That fuelled speculation the Leafs would go after Kessel, who they reportedly tried to acquire prior to the draft.
Burke acknowledged that acquiring the second-round pick did open up more options for the team, but he denied that Kessel was part of his future plans.
“We are not going to (make an offer),” Burke said. “That’s not the plan now, no.
“Everyone knows that we’ve reacquired a draft pick. It puts us in a position to affect a chain of events with certain players. It’s kind of a day-to-day thing. I don’t know what the next step is.”
Kessel, the Bruins’ first-round pick (fifth overall) in 2006, had a breakout season in 2008-09, scoring 36 goals and adding 24 assists in 70 games. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said last month he would match any offer sheet Kessel receives.
Burke is no stranger to offer sheet drama.
He and Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe were engaged in a year-long spat over a US$21.25-million, five-year offer sheet the Oilers made to Anaheim Ducks restricted free agent Dustin Penner in July 2007. Burke, then the Ducks GM, did not match, and promptly lambasted Lowe and the Penner offer sheet for spiralling salaries on young restricted free agents.
The two exchanged verbal shots before the NHL ordered an end to the feud. But Burke is still irked by Lowe’s tactics, and said it would be unfair to compare any offer sheet he makes to the one given out by Lowe.
“My objection was, first, I got blindsided by it,” said Burke. “This entire process has involved dialogue with Peter Chiarelli. We were at the point where I told him I was thinking about reacquiring the pick, telling him the night before I got the pick back that I intended to get it back . . . there’s been no blindside or backdoor here like Kevin Lowe did.
“Number two, I objected to the player that was the target of that, and the amount that was paid, and that’s just a matter of judgement. But I pointed out quite clearly at the time that I supported and believed in offer sheets. They’re part of the CBA.”
Burke suggested that had Lowe spoken with him prior to making the offer sheet, the dispute might have been avoided altogether.
“I think it’s a professional courtesy that professional people would do,” said Burke. “It wasn’t extended to me. I objected to it then and I feel the same way now.”
When pressed about whether his frequent dialogue with Chiarelli might indicate a future offer to Kessel, Burke reiterated his stance.
“I do not contemplate an offer sheet on Phil Kessel at this time,” Burke said.