Should the Leafs keep Kessel long term?

Asked about his expectations for a 48-game season, he added: “I don’t know. Have the best year possible. Do whatever I can to help this team win.”

This is obviously going to be an interesting year for Kessel for at least three main reasons.

No. 1 will be his relationship with new coach Randy Carlyle, who is notoriously tough on players who cheat in their defensive play.

No. 2 is if Kessel can keep producing at what was far and away a career-best rate or if he settles back into the 65-point region.

And No. 3 is that this will be the second last year of the five-year contract Brian Burke signed him to back in the fall of 2009.

A great season on the ice for the Leafs and under Carlyle’s system, including a playoff berth, and you can presume the contract extensions talks will begin to start. Kessel can re-sign up to an eight-year deal beginning on July 1, less than sixth months from now, and that figures to be one of the franchise’s biggest storylines in that timeframe.

Given the paucity of free agent talent available every year and his offensive production (with as many goals as all but seven others leaguewide the last four years), Kessel would likely command a long-term deal in the $7.5-million a season range.

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