Last year, Brian Burke told a story about one of his first interactions with Phil Kessel, long before Kessel was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Burke was interviewing Kessel in 2006, his draft year, and the answers he heard from the talented winger were mumbled. Kessel stared at his feet. He was shy and appeared to have a serious lack of self-confidence.
"I was like 'Pass. Not my kind of player,' " said Burke, who at the time was the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks.
But through the years, while spending time with Kessel in international competition, getting to know him better and seeing how he interacted with teammates, Burke's initial impression changed. He grew to like Kessel and eventually covet his rare ability to change a game on a moment's notice.
Often, the Phil Kessel he first met is the one the public sees. Kessel doesn't seek attention and occasionally has to be dragged out to fulfill media obligations.
Knowing this, Leafs general manager Dave Nonis relayed to the Toronto media on Thursday just how devastated Kessel was following the Boston Bruins' historic Game 7 comeback Monday over the Maple Leafs in their first-round playoff series.
"I'm not sure everyone in this room gets a feel for him because he's not gregarious, I would say, with you all the time," Nonis said during his season-ending news conference. "He's a good person and he cares. I don't think there was a play er on our team more devastated than Phil. His play on both sides of the puck was as good as it's ever been."
The last sentence is a key one, because it surely will come up when Nonis and Kessel's agent, Wade Arnott, sit down this summer to talk about a contract extension. Contrast it with how careful Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was in praising P.K. Subban in his season-ending news conference, mentioning that there was still room for improvement from his Norris Trophy-nominated defenseman, and it sounded almost as if negotiations were already starting.
Toronto and Kessel's camp can start talking informally about a contract extension now, but nothing has happened yet.
"He's in my mind one of the top players in the league. Would we look to extend Phil? Again, he has a year left in his contract, there is no urgency in getting him signed to an extension," Nonis said. "Phil Kessel is going to be a good player in this league for a long time. If there's a deal there that makes sense for both of us, no question, we'll look to bring him back for an extended period."But that's the challenge. What's a deal that makes sense?
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