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Is Phil Kessel Worth The Money?
On opening night this season the Leafs and Phil Kessel agreed to an 8 year, $64 million contract extension.
With the contract, Kessel now ranks in the top 10 of highest paid hockey players. Next season, he is slated to make as much money as Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk, and more money than Evgeni Malkin, and Steven Stamkos.
Kessel has had 5 straight 30-goal seasons (not including the lockout year). The Leafs are investing in a player that can put the puck in the net. Although impressive, his defensive game has always been criticized. Players like Ovechkin, Datsyuk, and Malkin all play 3 zones of the ice. Perennially, these 3 superstars have also ranked ahead of Kessel in various offensive categories.
Being able to score and not play defence warrants criticism in today’s NHL. Kessel’s short stature makes it harder for him to excel defensively. When he does back check, he is not physical enough to make hard plays along the boards to get the puck out. He also doesn’t challenge defenders with a body check and relies on his positioning.
In 2011-2012 Kessel was 6th in points with 82. Malkin and Stamkos were 1 and 2 respectively. Both forwards had a Plus/Minus rating over 7. Kessel was a -10. Now even though you put up a point a game, stats show that Kessel gives up more than he gets.
Since joining the Leafs Kessel has not had one positive Plus/minus year. Taking into consideration that Powerplay goals do no effect one’s Plus/Minus rating, Kessel’s numbers aren’t as impressive as Malkin or Stamkos.
Kessel makes $5.4 million this season. A very healthy number and economical for the salary cap. He was slated to become a free agent at season’s end. But to make a significant jump on his salary is questionable. The Leafs are expecting Kessel to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career and lead them offensively come playoff time. In the playoffs, Kessel has 21 points in 22 career games. Very solid. But two of those years, Kessel was on a third line with the Boston Bruins. Now he’s the top winger with a big target on his back.
Teams will make game plans just to stop him. Kessel tends to pull up at the opponent’s blue line with blistering speed to open up the ice. Problem is, when he or the Leafs turn the puck over, its very hard for Kessel to skate back with the same vigour he lead with going the other way. Also, if a team has a third forward back, they tend to force Kessel to move the puck before he wants to, resulting in a turnover.
The Leafs think Kessel is worth $8 million. His speed, scoring prowess, and on-ice leadership warrants a pay raise. Will it be worth it? We will find out in 8 years.
Featured Image: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images