The Boston Bruins off-season can be best represented by the fate of my Phil Kessel t-shirt.
Said shirt was given to me by my fiance for Christmas 2008. He had searched high and low for said shirt, to no avail. The 2008-09 season was still quite young, and Kessel had his fans, but didn't have enough to make his shirt readily available. After some begging at the Bruins Pro Shop, my fiance was able to locate a Kessel shirt, and gave it to me for Christmas.
Right now, it sits in my "sports wear" drawer in my closet (you know you are a true sports fan when you must devote an entire drawer to your team related wear). I feel weird wearing it.
Because is Kessel a Bruin, or isn't he?
No matter who the Bruins have added (D Derek Morris and LW Steve Begin), and no matter who they have traded (Boston media darling Aaron Ward), the overarching obsession of the off-season has been the status of Kessel. Remember that the kid can't play until most likely December due to recovery from his shoulder injury. Remember that he was benched in the 2008 playoffs for poor performance. Remember that he isn't even 22 years old yet. Nevertheless, Kessel is the center of attention.
Will Kessel, who can't play until December, make or break the Bruins 2009-10 season? I doubt it. It is clear that the Bruins organization sees him as a expendable commodity, and have begun to round their roster accordingly. The organization values guys who aren't afraid to get into the fray - the defensive offenseman, if you will - and Kessel is not one. The Bruins are about guys who fight, who play strong defense, who aren't afraid to get hurt. Kessel is a young player that plays the American college style game - score early, score often and don't get tangled up in the excess. The Bruins seem to have no place for that style of play.
Even though Kessel may not be a burly Bruin, the Bruins would be remiss not to reserve a roster spot for a pure offensive player. As Kessel demonstrated last season, his scoring prowess can make the difference in games. You need someone to score while Thorton and Lucic are sitting in the penalty box. Also, along with Lucic, Wheeler, and Rask, you need Kessel to helm the Bruins youth movement. Savard and Chara (both 32 years old and in their 12th year in the league) are not going to be around forever, and the whole of the Bruins roster is weighted on the experienced side. Sure, you want to win now, but you also want to win in four or five years. By eliminating a key member of the young guard, the Bruins are setting them up to be without a steady scorer in a few years, post Savard. The loss of Kessel may not be the end of the world in 2009-10, but do you want to be without him in 2012-13?
So while the Bruins and Kessel attempt to figure this out - or not - my Kessel shirt sits in my drawer, collecting dust, much like the kid's Bruins jersey.