Can the Toronto Maple Leafs Survive without Phil Kessel’s Offence?


Phil Kessel was the offensive engine of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past six seasons

In the rush to comment on Phil Kessel‘s ham-fisted exit from the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seems few of us stopped to consider how this might affect the team’s offence moving forward. Instead, we were quick to celebrate the Leafs’ commitment to a proper rebuild and their new prioritization of character over skill.

Live Feed

Jonathan Toews and 2 other NHL free agents still available
Jonathan Toews and 2 other NHL free agents still available /

Puck Prose

  • 3 NHL teams that should sign Phil Kessel right nowPuck Prose
  • Pros And Cons Of Re-Signing Phil KesselVegas Hockey Knight
  • Five Things To Be Grateful For As A Penguins FanPens Labyrinth
  • Could the Penguins Re-Acquire Former Stanley Cup Champion?Puck Prose
  • Phil Kessel wants to play again but are the Oilers an option?Oil On Whyte
  • These are both good things, but they beg the question: how will the Leafs perform offensively in Kessel’s immediate absence?

    Kessel led the Leafs in points every season that he was a member of the team. He also led the team in goals for five of those seasons and in assists for four of those seasons. In total, across six seasons and 446 career games for the Blue & White, he amassed 394 points (181 goals, 213 assists). Those are some pretty impressive numbers.

    His closest rival over the past three seasons was James van Riemsdyk, who has recorded 149 points (75 goals, 74 assists) over 210 games since joining the team at the start of the shortened 2012-2013 season. These are good numbers, but Kessel still has the edge: he recorded 193 points (82 goals, 111 assists) in 212 games during the same period.

    Mar 28, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) warms up before playing against the Ottawa Senators at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    (People often overlook Kessel’s ability to set up goals, but this is a mistake. He actually has more career assists than goals.)

    To put all of this in perspective, Kessel was directly responsible for 14 per cent of the team’s total goals (145) during the 2012-2013 season – the last time the Leafs went to the playoffs – and factored into 36 per cent of the team’s total offence on the season.

    Last season, which was a poor one for Kessel according to his own recent standards, still saw him register 12 per cent of the team’s total goals (211) and factor into 29 per cent of the team’s total offence.

    The obvious rejoinder to all of this, of course, concerns how many goals Kessel cost the team, but here the answer is complicated. Kessel recorded a career-worse minus-34 rating last season, which stood alongside an atrocious minus-193 rating in Shot Attempts and an equally atrocious minus-154 rating in Unblocked Shot Attempts.

    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

    I won’t deny these numbers – I can’t deny them – but I will say two things. First, these are ultimately team-based stats in the sense that the players around Kessel have an impact on his level and type of puck possession. He’s obviously responsible for his puck possession time as well, but it’s wrong to read these types of stats as “individualized” performance measures. Second, the entire core of the team – Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul, van Riemsdyk – were weak in two these measures. This is especially true for van Riemsdyk, who “led” the team with a minus-249 rating in Shot Attempts and a minus-208 rating in Unblocked Shot Attempts. Defence is just not one of the Leafs’ strong suits.

    In writing this and making the argument that Kessel’s offence will be missed, I’m not trying to suggest it was some kind of mistake to trade him. Ultimately, I think the Leafs made the right decision. What I’m trying to raise instead is the very serious question of how the Leafs plan to replace his lost offence over the next couple of seasons. It won’t be easy and we should brace ourselves for some low-scoring games.

    What do you think? Will the loss of Kessel hurt or is there enough depth on the roster to pick up the slack? Is van Riemsdyk the answer? Does next season even really matter? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

    More from Tip of the Tower

    We have you covered for all of your Toronto Maple Leafs needs here at Tip of the Tower!