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Judgment season for Kessel?

Phil Kessel had a career-high 37 goals and 82 points in 82 games last season. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Phil Kessel had a career-high 37 goals and 82 points in 82 games last season. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the Toronto Maple Leafs firing GM Brian Burke, some pundits are looking ahead at potential moves by the new management.

James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail recently focused on Leafs star right winger Phil Kessel, who had a career-best 82 points last season, but struggled with consistency.

Mirtle suggested Kessel's relationship with defense-minded coach Randy Carlyle, his ability to match last season's offensive pace and his contract status are factors that make this an interesting season for the 25-year-old scorer.

If Kessel has another strong season, Mirtle presumed contract extension talks would begin this summer. If, however, the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs again, Kessel’s future in Toronto may be in question.

Though there's no expectation Kessel will be shopped this season, or that he's currently thinking about his long-term future, he could be reaching a critical juncture in his career. He has one season remaining at a cap hit of $5.4 million and will become eligible for unrestricted free agency in July 2014.

If Kessel continues to rank among the league's leading scorers (he was sixth overall last season), he will undoubtedly command around $7.5 million per season. If the Leafs aren't willing to pay that, another club will on the open market.

Money isn't likely to be an issue, but rather, where Kessel sees his future.

Despite his continual improvement with the Leafs, Kessel has at times faced criticism from Toronto fans and media for failing to carry the club to its first post-season appearance since 2004. Soft-spoken and media-shy, Kessel seems uncomfortable living the fishbowl existence of a Maple Leaf.

If the Leafs continue to stagnate, the criticism against Kessel will only increase. That pressure could force him to consider moving on, either to a deeper club where he wouldn't have to play the leading role, or to a team where the spotlight wouldn't be as bright.

IGINLA CONTRACT TALKS TO STAY QUIET

Calgary Flames fans hoping for continual updates this season on the contract status of team captain Jarome Iginla will be disappointed.

Iginla and Flames GM Jay Feaster recently told the Calgary media they will discuss a new contract once the new season begins, but won't address it publicly for the rest of the season, unless a new deal is reached.

As Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun observed, Iginla's pending UFA status in July combined with the Flames struggles in recent years have made the 35-year-old a fixture in the trade rumor mill.

Sportak doubts this tactic by Iginla and Feaster will silence the trade rumors, especially if the Flames are still outside the playoff race as the April 3 trade deadline nears.

TWO DUCKS, TWO PENDING UFAs

Two other potential UFAs this summer are Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf and right winger Corey Perry, who would undoubtedly become the most sought-after players on the free agent market.

Ducks GM Bob Murray recently told Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register that re-signing the duo is his priority and that he’s determined to do all he can to keep them in Anaheim.

It won't be easy, as both are coming off identical five-year deals worth an average annual cap hit of $5.3 million. As Stephens pointed out, Getzlaf and Perry will command much more.

The duo was subject to trade rumors when the Ducks struggled through the first half of 2011-12. While Murray (with more than $32.8 million committed to 12 players next season) has the cap space to retain them, ownership is more cost-conscious than when Getzlaf and Perry signed their contracts in 2008.

Like Iginla and the Flames, trade speculation over Getzlaf and Perry will ramp up if the Ducks are floundering in the Western Conference standings by the trade deadline.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.

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