Toronto Maple Leafs: Kessel Set To Sign Huge Deal, Leafs Vs. Canadiens
With the clock ticking down on tonight’s opening game against the hated Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs look poised to make a significant signing Tuesday as they are expected to announce a monster contract in the range of eight years/$64 million for sniper Phil Kessel.
At an estimated $8 million per season, Kessel recieved a healthy $2.6 million raise on the $5.4 million he will earn this season. While the contract is hardly a suprise, the term and monies have many in the hockey world wondering if the Leafs will get enough bang for their buck from Kessel. Kessel’s estimated $8 million salary will put him right with Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos— who both earn $8 million per, which qualifies them both in the top ten in salary amongst NHL players.
In Kessel, the Maple Leafs secure one of the games premier snipers, as he has scored 30 or more goals in four of his first seven NHL seasons, with 2012-13 being a shortened 48-game season in which he scored 20 goals.
While questions about Kessel’s overall game continue to surface, Kessel’s plus-3 rating last season was more than respectable and there is the feeling that Kessel’s overall game, including his defensive deficiencies, is improving.
Is Kessel worth Stamkos money? Probably not, but the Maple Leafs had little choice but to pay Kessel in order to secure arguably their best player.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs will open the season against the Montreal Canadiens tonight where a bigger, tougher Canadiens club will be looking to avenge the Leafs, who won both games played at Montreal’s Bell Centre Last season, taking three of five games from the Habs in the process.
Both the Leafs and Canadiens are young teams, with Montreal boasting the likes of Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban (24), goaltender Carey Price (26) and forwards Max Pacioretty (24), Brendan Galagher (21) and Alex Galchenyuk (19). The Leafs will counter with the aforementioned Kessel (26), Nazem Kadri (22) and James van Riemsdyk (24) up front, with Jonathan Bernier (25) and James Reimer (25) between the pipes and Jake Gardiner (23) and Morgan Rielly (19)—who is not expected to play tonight— on the backend.
Off-season acquisition George Parros is expected to keep the opposition honest in the physical department, an area where the Habs were exploited last season. Meanwhile, Gatineau, Quebec native Daniel Briere will make his debut in a Habs uniform. At 35, Briere is not the player he once was, but look for him to have a good season in Montreal.
Price will get the call between the pipes for Montreal, while Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle is yet to announce his starter. Overall, it would appear as if Reimer had the better training camp, which should earn him the start tonight with Bernier getting the nod against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night.
With three defensemen injured (Douglas Murray, David Drewiske, Alexei Emelin), Montreal will be in tough against the Maple Leafs, who, despite losing spark plug David Clarkson tonight due to his ten-game suspension for jumping the boards in the pre-season, will ice a healthy lineup.
Special teams should play a factor Tuesday night. Toronto owned the second-best penalty kill last season with a 87.9 percent success rate, while Montreal owned the 23rd ranked PK at 79.8 percent. Montreal did own the fifth best power play with a success rate of 20.7, while Toronto ranked 14th at 18.7 percent.
Both Montreal (3.04) and Toronto (3.02) averaged just over three goals per game last season, while Montreal gave up 2.58 goals per game to Toronto’s 2.67.
While there is little doubt who the better netminder is, it is interesting to note that Reimer had a better goals against average (2.46-2.59) and save percentage (.924-.905) than Price last season.
Fearless prediction: 3-2 Maple Leafs