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02-09-2013, 11:02 PM
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All eyes on Leafs' Kessel as trade rumours swirl

His coaches and teammates look at the way he has played and the chances he has generated – Kessel sits second in the NHL in shots on goal with 46, a 4.18-per-game rate that is high by even his standards – and shrug over the low goal total.

“We knew it was only a matter of time,” said Tyler Bozak, Kessel’s centre and closest friend on the team. “I’m probably happier than him because I don’t have to get asked every day why he’s not scoring yet.”

“Everybody was just happy he finally got one,” Frattin added. “He’s been shooting a lot and hitting pipes and hitting shoulders. That was a great shot. A timely, huge goal.”

What is brewing as a much bigger story in Toronto, however, is what happens with Kessel’s contract situation and if he remains with the team long term.

The five-year deal he signed when he originally landed with the Leafs in former GM Brian Burke’s infamous trade with the Boston Bruins is set to expire on July 1, 2014, meaning Kessel can sign an extension in less than five months.

It is also believed that while Leafs GM Dave Nonis isn’t offering his top sniper around the league, he is willing to listen to offers, rumours that will only increase should Toronto fall out of the playoff race before the trade deadline in early April.

Kessel’s agent, Wade Arnott, said Friday it was “too early” to begin the discussion about potentially re-signing in Toronto.

“The season is just 11 games old,” Arnott said. “I know Phil is only focusing on the next game. We’ll see what the off-season brings, but I know he enjoys playing for the Leafs and living in a hockey market.”

There’s a difficult decision to be made on both sides here, too.

Kessel must determine whether he wants to play for a Toronto team that may still be rebuilding another two seasons or more before it realistically can be considered a contender.

And Nonis will need to weigh whether he wants to commit to a big-money deal for a one-way scorer into his early 30s or attempt to pull off a deal for a younger player.

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