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Bruins say they did best to keep Kessel

NHL.com @NHL

BOSTON (AP) -The Bruins did their best to keep restricted free agent Phil Kessel before acceding to his desire to be traded and making a deal with Toronto.

"This is not about frugality," Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said on Saturday. "There were some significant offers made."

Chiarelli said Kessel told him in July he no longer wanted to play in Boston, and the Bruins traded the rights to the 21-year-old former first-round pick to the Maple Leafs for Toronto's first-round picks in each of the next two drafts plus the Leafs' second-round pick in 2010.

Kessel, who isn't expected to play until around Thanksgiving because of offseason shoulder surgery, then signed a five-year, $27 million deal with the Maple Leafs.

The Bruins were less than $2 million under the salary cap and making room for Kessel would have required moving one or two players. But it didn't come to that because the right wing "did not want to play in Boston," Chiarelli said.

Even so, the GM said Kessel expressed disappointment after being traded.

"I spoke to him last night. I wished him luck," Chiarelli said. "I said, 'Look, Phil, for whatever reason it didn't work out.' We had a brief chat and he was disappointed at the outcome, but he was happy to have a new location."

Chiarelli, who cited the trade request and "threat of an offer sheet" as the two reasons behind the trade, said Kessel's "concerns" about the Bruins weren't unusual.

It is believed Kessel's problems with the team started when coach Claude Julien benched him for part of the first-round 2008 playoff series against Montreal. Julien was unhappy with Kessel's two-way play, something the coach said improved last season.

"My first year here (2007-08) was really trying to convince him that we were really trying to make him a better player and that he needed to just understand that," Julien said on Saturday. "Obviously, he did because he scored 36 goals the next year (and was a plus-23), but I even told him in a conversation that I didn't get a bonus for making him a bad player, so that he had to understand that everything I did was to try and make him a better player and I think that message was understood."

The Bruins had several options with Kessel. Besides trying to sign him, they could have waited for him to sign an offer sheet elsewhere and either matched it or accepted three drafts picks: a first-, second- and third-rounder. They also could have put him on the long-term injury list as they worked out the roster situation.

When Toronto GM Brian Burke came forward, the Leafs were the only team involved, Chiarelli said. Another, unidentified club came in late, but didn't match what Toronto was offering. The Bruins now have five picks in the first two rounds of what is projected to be a strong 2010 draft.

For now, though, Boston loses a 36-goal scorer, a young talent, and it traded him within the division.

"He's going to score goals," Chiarelli said.

While Julien labeled Kessel as a player with "superstar" talent, the coach added, "We just gotta really focus on moving forward here without him and not thinking for a second that now we've turned from a good team into a bad team because I think we'll be just fine."

The Bruins will look elsewhere to replace Kessel's offense. Marco Sturm, who is returning from injury, is a likely candidate.

The players were ready to move on, too.

"We are all happy with what we have, the group of guys we have in this room," captain Zdeno Chara said. "I can't really make comments on Phil's behalf, what he felt, why he decided not to be part of it. It's absolutely Phil's decision. It's part of the business."

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