TLN Roundtable: Should the Leafs Trade Kessel?

It’s been a really, really interesting few days in Leafs Nation. First, we found out that Brendan Shanahan has the blessing of the MLSE Board to strip this team down to the wood and build it up all over again. Then we had the Leafs’ best player, Phil Kessel, tell reporters that he loves Toronto, but “if it’s not here, it’s not here“.

It’s going down, guys. It’s the beginning of the end for this team.

There are, of course, some perceived untouchables. Pretty much everyone agrees that players like Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, and any future draft picks shouldn’t be moved for any reason, while others include Kessel in that group.

We asked the TLN staff to share their opinion on the idea of trading Kessel – here’s what we got…

Jon Steitzer

There are too many “ifs” around the Leafs to even begin entertaining the idea of trading Phil Kessel at the deadline and probably by the draft. While we’ve heard via the questionable source of Cathal Kelly that the Leafs are willing to scorch the earth, some actually evidence of this being put into practice should be seen before pushing Kessel out the door. Who will be the Leafs GM next year? Should Kessel be something that falls on them? Who will the next coach of the Leafs be? Is having a legitimate talent important to attracting a legitimate coach? What of the draft lottery? If the Leafs were to actually win the draft lottery (LOL, yeah right) a Kessel-McDavid combo likely speeds up the rebuilding process enough that you don’t deal Kessel.

The reality is that trade offers on Kessel should absolutely be entertained now, at the draft, throughout the summer, and ongoing until the deal the Leafs want materializes. The interest in adding a 30 goal scorer isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and the Leafs have plenty of time to look for the best return, even though it seems unlikely that any return would be satisfactory when giving up Kessel. Waiting beyond the draft means that the Leafs can seek offers for players they are disappointed to have missed in this draft, and a deal over the summer that would include a 2016 1st round pick means the Leafs can gamble on a deal with a bubble team and hope that team’s pick falls into the lottery. Waiting until the summer also makes the deal less dependent on taking salary back which is nice too. What’s also nice is if the deal doesn’t materialize this summer you probably two more summers to attempt a deal before you start seeing returns for Kessel decline steeply.

Justin Fisher

The Leafs absolutely have to trade Phil Kessel. That’s not to say I don’t like the guy… the exact opposite, actually. It’s just that if the Leafs want to rebuild – and I mean really, really rebuild, then everything has to go (save for Morgan Rielly, and maybe Nazem Kadri). 

Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that this team would benefit from a partial rebuild. It’s got to be a full tear down, or Leafs brass is just wasting their time as well as the fans’. And a full tear down means players like Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and (probably) James van Riemsdyk need to be moved. The assets they would bring into the organization, in the form of young roster players, prospects, and draft picks, are vital. It’s that volume of assets that speeds up a rebuild, not keeping one or two of those players and letting them depreciate for several years.

Speaking of the speed of a rebuild, this isn’t going to be a quick fix. You’re looking at three years at the very least to simply start turning things around, and another few years before the youth movement develops into consistent contributors and useful free agents actually want to play in Toronto. While Kessel certainly has a style of play that lends itself to longevity, and while hasn’t battled injuries, a five year rebuild will bring Kessel to age 32. He’s worth more to the team being moved now than he will be in his early 30’s. It’s tough, but he’s got to go.

Shawn Reis

The Leafs should trade Phil Kessel. If you’re going to do a rebuild, you should do it right. There are a lot of benefits to trading Kessel – the most obvious of which is the 3-4 assets you could get in a return for him. Sure maybe the pieces you get back are more B-level than game-changing, but what they do represent is a step in the right direction.

The Leafs need to restock the shelves full of young talent and trading Phil Kessel provides that opportunity. It also has the added benefit of making your team worse in the short-term, which could help raise the value of the team’s own draft picks. Kessel will be 28 by the time next season starts. For the time being, he’s still an elite winger that has a lot of trade value. It’s possible we won’t be able to say the same thing 3 or 5 years from now. And anyways, what’s the point of keeping him? Unless you win the draft lottery and get Connor McDavid, the team is going to continue to struggle in the standings for at least the next little while. 

The team has already wasted away his prime years, there’s no sense continuing that trend. A proper rebuild consists of accumulating young talent. Trading away Phil Kessel can help accomplish that for the team in a huge way. If you are going to rebuild, Kessel should be among the first to go. The team has set on the fence of mediocrity for too long. The team needs to choose a direction and commit to it with authority. Trading Phil Kessel definitively marks a rebuild and helps the team begin to accomplish its new goals.

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  • MacTwoTimes

    I agree with Justin 100%. Speaking as someone who’s never said anything bad about Kessel and always been a fan, he’s got to be traded at this point.

    I am seeing a lot of ridiculous takes on this issue from Leafs Twitter lately. People who don’t want to trade Kessel and Phaneuf, who think you don’t move your good players away to rebuild.

    Unfortunately we have no choice since Nonis has painted the team into this corner. There is no moving the Clarksons and the Robidas.

  • MacTwoTimes

    Off Topic: One of the main reasons why we started the season so well is because the third and fourth lines went out there and showed the rest of the team how real hockey is played. They inspired them.

    Trade Kessel. Sure he scores 30 goals a season, but being paid that much surely calls for at least a little more effort on the backcheck.

    Trade Lupul. Superb when he’s on the ice and there’s a fire in his belly, but he’s made of glass.

    Trade Bozak… or move him to the 2nd or 3rd line permanently.

    I’m on the fence about JVR, give him a solid center to play with and he could show brilliance again.

    I know we can get future value for Winnik and Santorelli (and Panik), but geez I wanna see those hard-hat wearin’, lunchboxin’ mofos stick around for next year.

    • CMpuck

      I agree. But heres how you start things off the right way….NO ONE is untouchable to land McDavid. Send Kessel, Nylander, Rielly and Leafs 2015 1st round to whoever lands McDavid on draft day (if leafs dont), hold on to the best assets until then. No one will turn down that deal…Then unload Bozak Kadri Lupul etc….

      • CMpuck

        Oilers would turn down that deal. They don’t need Kessel and wouldn’t want him or his contract. So it’d be McDavid for Reilly, Nylander and the 2015 1st. You’d probably have to add in Bernier to get the oilers to bite on that one. McDavid is Crosby good

    • MacTwoTimes

      We have to think long term, we have decent prospects in the Marlies. Who can we get for Kessel (others) that may play well with the likes of Nylander, Brown, Kozun, Kadri, Reilly etc.?

      • MacTwoTimes

        I’m not sure if you want to tear it down completely. Look at the oilers… You always need good solid veteran players on the team to teach the young guys, and to not let the loser me reality creep into the organization.

        Again, look at the oilers. Once you become pathetic you can’t expect a couple high drafts to magically turn the team around. You can ruin even the highest of prospects if you don’t properly develop them. I believe that takes both time and quality veterans to guide them.

        I think they already have good building blocks with Reilly, Nylander and the high pick this year. I just don’t think falling into the abyss is the way to properly build a team. Calgary has alot going for them without ever going full retard. You never go full retard like the oilers went full retard

  • acg5151

    You guys are out of your minds. Kessel is our best player, a pure goal-scorer, one of the best in the league – up there with P.Kane, Tavares, Stamkos. You only stumble upon such a player once in a decade if you’re lucky (leafs comparable a are Sundin an Gilmour). The only way a guy like that should be traded is if someone’s willing to part with Towes or Kopitar or Stamkos or McDavid. But no one will do that because everybody knows the value of a truly elite player. Everyone except, it seems, us.

    • acg5151

      This is why you don’t trade him. Because you’re fan base has an unrealistic idea of what Kessel is. He might be able to put the puck in the net, but he doesn’t do anything else. He’s not a building block, he’s a 1 dimensional liability. Teams simply won’t give you a good enough return in a trade to please the fans. Might as well just keep him.

    • MacTwoTimes

      The difference between Kessel and the players you mentioned is that those players are guys who you can build a team around. You can’t build a team around Kessel, he is a single piece of the puzzle that can fit nicely with a team and score goals, but can’t be relied upon as a leader.

      Everyone else on that list will at least throw a hit, go into the corners, backcheck for their defence, and give 100% every shift. Kessel does none of those things. Maybe if we had a true #1 center for him to play with these things would be less noticeable. But as of right now this is a problem we need to fix.

      If you had to pick just one, who would you most want to wear the blue and white? P. Kane, Tavares, Stamkos, or Kessel?

      • MacTwoTimes

        Kessel hasn’t missed a game in his Leafs career. That’s because he doesn’t go into corners and plays through injuries. He is reliable and predictable – he will score 30 + goals/ season and he does make his linemates better. Still, I would probably trade him for Tavares or Stamkos – that’s what I said in the first place – but not for less than that.

  • acg5151

    At this point it is inevitable. Dave Nonis has forced this on us – we could have had a reasonable contender for many years had he not taken command, but now we don’t have a lot of choice. Keep David Clarkson as our first line star player and dump pretty much everyone else except Gardiner, Reilly, Kadri. Get good value for your guys and draft well and develop well. Get ready to see a lot of people wearing paper bags to Leafs games.

  • CMpuck

    Kessel managed to make the games a heck of lot more exciting for me. I will hate to see him go. He made the team look better than it was for years and had very little help doing it. No thanks for it either. In fact I’ve never seen a player so ripped apart over things he has no control over and Kessel being a different sort of player would never have changed the fact that he plays on a bad team that managed, in two years, to get even worse.

    The organization over the years certainly thought this team was better than it was, from the picks given for Kessel which Burke believed would be late first round to Nonis not making any significant moves at the trade deadlines and losing assets for nothing during Free Agency. They couldn’t see what was obvious to others, what Shanahan saw the moment he arrived. A team with a few good pieces and nothing else.

  • CMpuck

    Do I want to trade Kessel for the sake of change? No, he’s got 7 more years on his deal no need to rush a trade. If it’s a pick/prospect package and the centerpiece is another midget like Marner coming back no thanks.

    Trade Kessel for a legit building piece or stand pat.

  • MacTwoTimes

    Trade Kessel eh. If a total teardown is in the works yes you have to trade Kessel. The last couple of years Kessel was the go to guy we all pinned our high hopes on him, thought he was gonna lead us to the mecca. yes he says he likes it in Toronto, but when you show up to training camp really out of shape,( the sportsnet commercial with George Strombo, was not very complimentary to him) he said that he fished a lot last summer didn’t do much training. But when you make 8 million a year you better be in shape, or you are letting your fans down, the organization, teammates. this is a business, his lively hood, yes he was probably tired from last year Olympics and all. These guys that make this kind of money have to think about that father that shells out 350.00 so he can take his son to that one game a year that they can afford, and the leafs stink the joint out. He has value now so you trade him, he has high end value get your return now, If he has another year like this second half people are going to think that he either lost a step or his passion for the game.If they are true to their word, lets do this 1967 is long in the past, lets be a proud organization bring the tradition back. KESSEL AND HOLLAND TO ARIZONA FOR YANDLE DOMI AND A FIRST THIS YEAR AND YOU FLIP YANDLE AT THE TRADE DEADLINE.