Toronto Maple Leafs: A Rush to Trade Phil Kessel for Nothing


Toronto Maple Leafs: A Rush to Trade Phil Kessel for Nothing

I originally offered my perspective on the Phil Kessel trade last week, arguing that the return was actually quite weak given Kessel’s all-star talents and his potential impact on an already impressive Pittsburgh Penguins squad. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs let me down (again).

Oct 26, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) checks Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Pittsburgh 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that the team wanted to move him and that there was some difficulty in doing this, but I refuse to believe that there wasn’t a strong market for a five-time 30 goal scorer. This is the “new” NHL, after all, where offence trumps defence and the only thing that really matters from a business perspective is the final score. Kessel can help most teams in this department, filling seats and selling jerseys with ease.

If you don’t believe me, look at the hordes of Leafs fans who still swear by Kessel’s side despite the 27-year-old native of Madison, Wisconsin giving them every reason to dislike him. He’s not a likeable player, but talent has a way of subduing people – it’s that simple.

In short, salary retention, an exchange of high draft picks and the swapping of several unproven players isn’t acceptable value for Kessel.

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  • The main objection to my argument from readers was that the Leafs were stuck; no one else wanted Kessel so they were forced to deal with Pittsburgh. I find this hard to believe for two reasons – the second one being stronger than the first one.

    First, as a I mentioned, teams love offence and there are many teams out there that would instantly benefit from the addition of someone like Kessel. In the Eastern Conference alone, teams like the New Jersey Devils, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres are hungry for offence. The Leafs were creative in trading Kessel to Pittsburgh – why couldn’t they have tried something creative with these teams?

    Everyone is talking about the potential impact of playing Sidney Crosby and Kessel on the same line – what about the potential impact of Eric Staal and Kessel? There’s some extra money in Carolina these days with the departure of Alexander Semin. It could’ve worked.

    (I haven’t even mentioned the marketability of Kessel as an American-born hockey player – something that would surely have immense value to these teams.)

    Apr 1, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) takes a shot on goal during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Of course, none of these teams might have been interested in Kessel for various reasons. I acknowledge this, but it’s still not clear that Pittsburgh was the only possible destination for Kessel. That’s my basic point here.

    Second, the Leafs opted to trade Kessel at a point in time when his value was relatively low: the off-season. They could’ve easily created a competitive market by keeping him until the trade deadline. Teams desperate to make the playoffs or wanting to improve their rosters down the stretch would’ve given Kessel a strong second look.

    Here it’s interesting to add that the same package from Pittsburgh would’ve presumably still been on the table if the Leafs had waited to trade Kessel – they definitely wouldn’t have “lost” anything since the trade deal they did complete is based on future assets.

    Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) steps onto the ice before the start of their game against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Jets 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    This argument is stronger than the first one and it isn’t based on speculation to the same extent. It’s very reasonable to assume that Kessel would garner more interest at the trade deadline; this is when teams typically overpay for players according to Brian Burke anyway.

    We all knew Kessel would be traded at some point – the real question was when. By moving Kessel before the start of next season, the Leafs dealt from a weak position and got a relatively weak return for him as a result.

    This is what’s wrong with the Kessel trade: the Leafs were in a rush to trade him for nothing.

    It’s hard to take this latest rebuild effort seriously if the team still insists on making immature decisions.

    Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson