I have to start off this article with a couple of Leafs Nation disclaimers.
First, I realize Phil Kessel has already been a Boston Bruin, but the headline is in regards to life from here on in for the Leafs forward.
Second, this is not an indictment of Phil Kessel. I think he is a very skilled hockey player, and I have nothing against him personally. Kessel has always been an electric, dangerous scorer in his career and has added a second dimension this season with his improved vision and passing.
The time is drawing very near for the Toronto Maple Leafs to decide what they want to do with their first-line right winger. His contract is up after next season and he will be looking for a big pay raise from his current contract and $5.4 million dollar cap hit.
Should the Leafs offer up one of those contracts that will keep the annual salary reasonable and give him the term that would make Kessel a Leaf for life? Surely, Phil and his agent will seek a long-term home run type of deal that not only makes him a Leaf for life, but at an annual salary close to the top players in the league.
Here are five reasons that Phil Kessel should not be a Leaf for life.
How successful have those crazy "contract for life" type of deals been for the organizations that have handed them out in recent years? Goalies Rick DiPietro and Roberto Luongo are two perfect examples, and there are plenty more.
Whether it's the weight of big-contract expectation, or the tendency to lose a bit of internal fire once a player's future, and that of his loved ones, are secured for life. No one should have that type of security so early in their career, especially a guy like Kessel.
If you are going to commit to a player for life, you sure as hell better know exactly what you are going to get night after night. Kessel is an up and down type of player, and while you know he will score some goals, you don't know how long he is going to go between them sometimes.
Kessel can go stretches where the puck doesn't go in for him, and his body language and effort can sometimes slump with it. That is a scary thing for a guy with a life-long contract. He shoots a lot, but mostly from the perimeter, which leads to dry spells that elite players can't have.
Kessel is a great player and is going to be a productive player for a lot of years in the NHL. However, I don't see his game evolving at a fast rate, which begs the question: Has he shown his full potential already in his career?
Look at Alex Ovechkin and his problems that opposing teams have really figured out his tendencies. Thus far, he hasn't been able to evolve his game.
I see Kessel the same way, and although he has added a playmaking dimension this year, his scoring has slipped due to the predictability of his game. You don't give a guy like that a contract for life, you save that for a guy with a bigger upside.
There seem to be some players who do better in places where they can hide off in a corner rather than have to shine under a very hot spotlight. Kessel has done fine in the Toronto market but it seems sometimes that he would rather go under the radar.
Although he has recently stated in an article by Kevin McGran in the Toronto Star. that he would love to remain a Leaf for the rest of his career, it may not be best suited for a media-shy, and sometimes awkward, star like he is.
Like I said, he has done fine so far, but it doesn't take much sometimes for the market to sour on a player or vice versa, and I just don't feel the current mutual love will be sustained forever.
I hope Phil Kessel is a successful Leaf for a long time, but no one hockey player ever deserves to be with a franchise for life. If Gretzky got traded and Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark were not Leafs for life, Phil Kessel certainly should not be offered that guarantee. I realize it is apples to oranges, since Kessel wasn't drafted by the Leafs but the point remains the same. It doesn't happen to the best of players so it shouldn't happen with Phil.
Some have done it and deserved it with Steve Yzerman being the most obvious to come to mind. Players who are with one franchise for life are few and far between and Kessel has not, nor will he achieve the status to be considered for that honor.
He would need a string of Stanley Cups in the blue and white to change the sentiment on that and I wouldn't bet on it.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a contributor to Bleacher Report NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report UFC.
Follow him on Twitter at wakafightermma