Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How much is Kessel really worth?

While we wait for this impasse to clear, there are only two variables left in play:

1) How much does Kessel think he's worth?
2) Can the Bruins achieve that number by dumping salary to other teams?

I'll leave Eklund to work on that second item, but #1 is something worth thinking about.

Let's take a look at the historical precedent. Kessel is 21 and coming off a 36-goal campaign -- an unusual scenario for any team trying to construct a market-value offer. In fact, I could only find five similar cases in recent history:

Marian Hossa, 2001: He rang up 32 goals for Ottawa, but was unable to come to terms when his rookie contract expired. Hossa sat out until two weeks into the season, signing a 3-year deal worth $2.8 million per. After three more seasons of similar production, he signed with the Thrashers at $5m/yr and has been a mercenary ever since.

Simon Gagne, 2002: Gagne led the Flyers with 33 goals, and signed a two-year contract the following summer for $2.35m per. He continued to climb the scoring list and landed a $5.25m/yr deal several years later. Nagging injuries that began in his early 20s have blossomed to siderail his career, though he can still hold his own.

Dany Heatley, 2003: This is, of course, an unusal story. Heatley was one of the league's brightest stars when he scored 41 goals in his second season, and under the right circumstances would have turned out quite differently. However, his personal life and the lockout got in the way and he ended up being traded to Ottawa. His post-lockout salary was in the $4.5m/yr range, but that was two years removed from his breakout season.

Alex Semin, 2007: Another odd story, which involved the Capitals suing Semin's agent for breach of contract when he split for Russia after his rookie season. When he returned, the 23-year-old scored 38 goals and was rewarded with a 2-year contract at $4.6m per. He'll be looking to hit the jackpot after this season as an RFA.

Thomas Vanek, 2007: This is the nightmare scenario. Vanek was 5th in scoring during the final year of his rookie contract, and everything seemed on track until the Oilers signed him to an absurd 7-year, $50m ($7.14m/per) offer sheet. In the wake of other free agent departures, Sabres management had little choice but to absorb this monstrosity of a contract.

So, the historical record shows a little bit of everything: from the "prove it" contract (Gagne) to a regrettable trade (Heatley) to a cap-crushing offer sheet (Vanek). Oddly, the post-cap contracts seem to be less restrained than those which occurred in a free market.

Of the five, Kessel's situation is most similar to Gagne's. He's playing on a Cup-contending, big-market team alongside one of the best setup men in the league. He's got a media-friendly personal history. If he should stay in Boston, he'll be one of the top names in this year's Winter Classic. The table is set for him to have a huge season, one in which his value could eventually elevate into the $5-6m range or higher. But that is contingent upon his health and his production, and the "if" factor is a bit too much for him to score that kind of deal right away.

Using the examples of Gagne and Hossa, it would be reasonable for the Bruins to offer a 2-year deal with a $3m annual cap hit. However, Kessel's agent will likely start the discussion with David Krejci's recent $3.75m extension. Taking the average, we arrive at $6.8 million over 2 years, with a cap hit of $3.4m per. Given Kessel's lack of leverage, and the likelihood of a big payday down the road, he'd be wise to take that offer.

In order to arrive at this number, the Bruins will be required to move one or more of the following: Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart.

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Pezell said...

I hope it's Ference. I really, really, REALLY hope that it isn't Kobesew. He's got a great contract.

Tom said...

I agree, seeing Kobasew go would be a damned shame. He's always given it 100% for the Bruins and at $2.3m he's not a bad deal at all. I like Ference but if there's any way to unload him I wouldn't think twice.