It is often said professional athletes are paid for what they have done; not for what they will do in the future.
That is not the case with Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There is no question Kessel has developed into an elite scorer in the NHL. In the past two years only Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers have more points than Kessel’s 119. And, since being acquired from the Boston Bruins Sept. 18, 2009, only six players have more goals than Kessel’s 119.
So it really comes as no surprise that Kessel has signed a new contract that will run for eight years and reportedly pay him $64 million US.
"Phil Kessel is one of the premier wingers and elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League today,” Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said in a statement released by the team. “He wanted to be a Maple Leaf long term and we’re very pleased that Phil will be a part of our core group of players in Toronto until the 2021-22 season
That said, for that kind of dough, Kessel had better ramp up his production even higher.
Kessel has never hit the 40-goal plateau. Two years ago he tallied a career-best 37 goals, but dipped to a 34-goal pace in a lockout-shortened season last year. He finished with 20 goals and 52 points in 48 games.
Kessel did have an excellent playoff leading the Maple Leafs with four goals (two game-winners) and six points in seven games.
Kessel met with the media in Montreal, where the Maple Leafs open the 2013-14 regular season Tuesday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
“I’m really excited,” Kessel said. “I’m happy to be here with the guys. We have a great group of guys and without them, I wouldn’t be as successful. I love each and every one of them.”
The contract includes a limited no-trade clause, a source told The Canadian Press. Kessel had one season left on his previous deal at $5.4 million.
Don’t expect Kessel to rest on his laurels. His overall game can still grow and he knows that.
“I think you always have to improve your game in this league,” Kessel said. “Guy gets bigger, faster and stronger and you always have to try to grow as a player and adjust your game so you can stay at the level you want to be at and help the team win. Obviously you want to win, right?
"It would be a great city to win in and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen. I think we have a lot of great pieces to our team and we’re going to have to just play our game."
The Madison, WI, native, who turns 26 Wednesday, had indicated he would not be interested in negotiating an extension and reiterated that thought to Nonis last week when the two met to speak with the NHL about Kessel's stick-swinging incidents, which drew a three-game suspension.
“He brought up to me how important it was to stay,” Nonis said. “That is when we started negotiations. I wanted to hear from him. … I wanted him to tell me that he wanted to be a Toronto Maple Leaf. Once he did we worked quickly and were able to reach an agreement.”
The boss also said Kessel’s excellent performance against the Bruins in last year's playoffs should take some of the pressure off the team’s scoring ace, but added there was a gradual build up that led to his breakout.
“I think Phil made some great strides in that series,” Nonis said. “He had a great year. He had several great years. That’s one thing I think people overlook. If you look at his point and goal totals over the last two to three seasons, he’s up there with some pretty elite players. He’s in the top two or three in several categories.
"It’s not like he hadn’t done anything before that series, but his desire to win and compete and do things that don’t come naturally to him, I think that opened a lot of people’s eyes. One thing with that is he has to continue doing that and he knows it.”