Despite the uncertain contract status of restricted free agent Nazem Kadri, much of the recent discussion surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs has revolved around forward Phil Kessel. As we near the opening of training camps with the next couple of weeks, Kessel is heading into the final year of his deal with Toronto.
Kessel has been mentioned in trade rumors involving the Leafs from time to time, but has established himself as an elite player in his time in Toronto, finally reaching the playoffs for the first time with the club in 2013. Heading into the final season of his current contract, the two sides have yet to talk about an extension.
That should be cause for concern for the Maple Leafs and their fanbase. As his five-year deal, that paid him just over $5 million a season, comes to an end, there’s little doubt that he’s about to become one of the highest paid players in the game, whether it’s with or without the Maple Leafs.
If it ends up being the latter, the Maple Leafs would be making a major mistake. Though he’s not a no. 1 center or defenseman, Kessel is a franchise player. He’s been the dynamic presence that the Leafs have lacked out on the wing for several years, and has proven to be a model of consistency.
Prior to this past season, which was shortened by the lockout, Kessel had posted four consecutive seasons of at least 30 goals. Even with 2013 being a shorter year, he still managed to pot 20. He’s an offensive force out on the wing, and one that any team would be looking to add to their lineup.
Which is why the Leafs should start talking about a new deal with him now. Waiting until next summer would be an extremely risky move for the franchise, and could potentially result in him departing via free agency. The Leafs need to look into an extension for Phil Kessel sooner, rather than later.