UPDATE: It's official: Phil Kessel has signed a new eight-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs worth $64 million. The extension, which kicks in next season, will pay him $10 million each of the first two years, then drops to $9 million for two years, $7 million for two, then $6 million for the final two seasons. The deal has a limited no-trade clause.
It confirms the speculation that ran rampant in the hockey world on Monday night (see tweets below) suggesting that the deal would be the most lucrative in franchise history.
The numbers shouldn't be surprising for a player who has finished in the top 10 in league scoring during each of the past two seasons, but anytime you hear anyone could get $8 million per year over the maximum eight years, it's an eye opener. Especially when that player totes around a checkered reputation like Kessel and has never scored 40 goals in a season. But the Leafs clearly valued his breakthrough performance against the Bruins in last spring's playoffs as a leading indicator of his big-game ability and see him as a player who can be a difference maker as the franchise looks to become a postseason threat. GM Dave Nonis said he's glad Kessel "will be a part of our core group of players in Toronto until the 2021-22 season."
The structure of the contract is interesting in that the value maxes out during the next two seasons when Kessel, 26, will be in his prime. It's also a clear indication of where the market is at these days. That $8 million figure is a baseline reflection of what it costs to employ a superstar-level player and Kessel, for all his detractors, fits the label . . . or at least something very close to it. That's good news for potential 2014 unrestricted free agents like Henrik Lundqvist, the Sedin twins and Marian Gaborik, and further proof that the NHLPA made out just fine in the last labor battle.
What it means for Dion Phaneuf, another Leaf entering the final year of his contract, is less certain. The Kessel deal could signal a commitment to keep the team's core together, which could make the love him/hate him defender a very rich man. Or it could be Dave Nonis' one wallet-emptying splurge.
Kessel made it clear all summer that he wasn't interested in negotiating during the regular season, so getting it done today makes sense for the player and the team.