TLN Roundtable – Should Phaneuf and Kessel Stick Around for the Babcock Era?

Just a few days ago, it was a given that the Toronto Maple Leafs would dismantle the core of their roster and start all over again with a fresh and exciting rebuild. Things changed a bit when Mike Babcock was announced as the club’s next head coach, with many wondering how much talent and production could be squeezed out of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf by one of hockey’s best bench bosses. 

Does Babcock’s arrival mean a little more rope for Kessel and Phaneuf? Should the Leafs maybe not flip them for youngsters and assets this offseason? Our TLN Roundtable discusses…

Justin Fisher

I’ve been on the “trade everything” bandwagon since day one, and as much as it pains me to say it, I still am. I love Phil Kessel, and I also kind of like Dion Phaneuf, but for a team that is looking to rebuild they are the two most obvious pieces to move.

Like many, I anticipate that Mike Babcock will instantly make the Toronto Maple Leafs a better team, but I’m sure as hell not convinced that means Toronto is suddenly a playoff team. An actual koala with a clipboard and a fedora could coach this team to a better record next year. With that, I’m not ready to say “hey, we’re close, let’s regroup with our current core and give it a run under Babcock.” That’s ridiculous.

A few days ago, ESPN’s Corey Pronman wrote a good piece (for Insider$) on how the Leafs can rebuild their organization and specifically focused on drafting and development. In it, Pronman said that following the 2015 Draft the Leafs’ prospect pool, headlined by William Nylander and the 4th overall pick, along with Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic, Andreas Johnson and the 24th overall pick, could potentially be a top ten farm system. Can you imagine how much better it would be if they add at least two or three more high-end assets in Kessel and Phaneuf deals? I’d commit to the rebuild every day of the week.

Bobby Cappuccino

The hiring of Mike Babcock was a huge feather in Shanahan’s cap, and puts some feeling of legitimacy in the organization. Babcock is a winner, which is why him actually becoming a Leaf seemed so unlikely – this is a team and management group with a plan, a plan that’s going to involve some pain, and a lot of losses.

The expectation of failure for at least another season is largely due to the likelihood of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel being moved this offseason – two players who do not fit with the long-term vision of management. However, these same two players look to be the types that would flourish under Mike Babcock – Phaneuf resembling Niklas Kronwall, who Babcock managed to turn into a solid top-pairing guy, and Kessel being the type of offensive wizard that he doesn’t shy away from using.

It’s tempting to want to see Phil spend another year in the blue and white, under the tutelage of a truly great coach. And as a fan of his, it would be nice to see Phaneuf succeed here as well. But this is a team that has to commit to a rebuild – and unfortunately, these two guys just don’t fit in to the long-term plans. The time to get some young assets that can grow with future core pieces is now. The trading of Kessel and Phaneuf is integral to that.


When it comes to these two specifically, you have to think that Babcock is going to take his time before making any significant decisions. The fact is, Babcock’s input was definitely considered by Ken Holland while he was in Detroit, which would lead you to believe that he wasn’t a major dissenter when the Red Wings nearly acquired Dion Phaneuf.

In regards to Kessel, Babcock has dealt with players that match his stereotypes before, but at a lower talent level. In a world where he no longer has Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at his disposal, he’ll definitely want to find ways to use his lone “elite-level” forward. If Babcock were to write Kessel off based on reputation, he would be no better than a morning radio analyst. With that said, he’s the best coach in the world, and not a radio analyst, so I don’t think that’s a concern.

There’s a lot to the idea of shedding some of the veteran presence from this team to assist in the rebuild, but you need to leave a coach some big pieces. Two big pieces who would “sell” at below their market value at the moment are best suited to be held on to from a management perspective, and developed back into what they can be from a coach’s perspective. Needless to say, they’ll continue to be focal points on the Leafs roster for the time being.

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  • Bertly83

    Kessel and Phaneuf will certainly play better and the team MAY become a playoff team, however no chance in hell will it become a stanley cup team, everyone knows that including Babcock, no need to wait for an extra year, start the scorched-earth IMO.

  • Bertly83

    I’ve gone back and forth on this…

    Personally, I would trade at least one of them before the draft – maybe both.

    As for what the Leafs management does… I think they still hold on to these two guys for one more year minimum. They definitely will be dealt as part of this rebuild… just not yet.

    The other part of me still thinks that two of Kessel, Phaneuf, JVR, Kadri, Lupul, Gardiner, Bozak are gone before or during the draft.

    Interesting times….

  • Bertly83

    For me Lupul and Bozak are must goes. JVR should stay because he can still fit into this group. I would hold onto Kessel and Phaneuf until a trade offer comes you shouldn’t refuse and their value goes back up.

    Granted if Kessel can turn his game around when without the puck, he makes a legitimate case to stick around for a few season.

  • slickrick

    Trade Kessel as he will garner the highest return
    for example another first round pick plus….
    As well the off season is the only time you can reasonably trade Kessel as his salary is something teams must budget around, and there will be few teams competing to trade for him at the trade deadline as few playoff teams would be able to afford him under their cap at that time of the season.

    Trade Bozak as he also should bring a solid return.

    These two players should be a big enough splash to give Shanahan’s declaration of a rebuild legitimacy.

    I think the Leafs should let Lupul try to make the team as this is preferable to a buyout , and if he plays back to form -then he can be dealt at the deadline certainly for more than they would get for him at the present moment.

    Kadri should be allowed to see what he can do on the first line with JVR, Holland as second line center. Hopefully Robidas will have a better year then last year and Percy should make the team out of training camp. Gardiner should stick for the moment to see if Babcock can develop him into a better defenseman.

    Keeping Phaneuf keeps the Leafs from completely
    bottoming out which I think is important as you can see by Edmontons’ example how losing can become a bad habit, and the changes in the rules makes sure that teams that tank don’t automatically get the top draft picks.

      • silentbob

        With Babcock’s leadership and technique skill I believe the Leafs will be competitive every night.

        I think the roster will be made up of young players,
        a few players on one years deals who need to prove themselves though work ethic every night
        and a sprinkling of veterans to provide leadership and some experience.

        Think Calgary, I, like Don Cherry think the Leafs
        will be better than most think. What needs to change is the culture of the Leafs, the compete level, discipline and better possession systems in place.

        I think Dion will be worth as much next year as he is this year, and he was one of the few core players that was still throwing hits and competing through the Horrorchuk tenure.

        If they get a great offer then trade him , but I still see him as a useful player. The Leafs should wait til a descent return can be had for him, and not just dump him.

        • silentbob

          So you want the, to abort the rebuild again to maybe make he play offs………

          Good thing is, I doubt Shanahan is going to base his decisions based on year season the flames had.

          • silentbob

            Absolutely not , I just think with Babcock’s leadership, systems and will to work hard and win will make the Leafs competitive.
            It means to me a lot of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 games.

            As long as they are in most every game and are developing I call this success, as apposed to Edmonton where they have had a culture of losing for a long while now.

            I dont think the Leafs will stay in last place next season, but that doesn’t mean they will make the playoffs either.But ending the circus in Toronto
            I think will register as a great success in my mind.

          • silentbob

            peopoe need to stop using the oilers as the example of what happens when a team rebuilds. Lots of teams that go onto be successful and win championships start building their team by bottoming out.

            Finishing in 10 or 9 place would be the worst thing the leafs could do Simply put they NEED to bottom,out for a few seasons to get the talent they need to build a winner.

            And why are the flames now the team everyone wants to emulate? Why not aims little higher at a team like the Hawks? Sure it will be harder and take longer but isn’t that reward much better?

          • Jeremy Ian

            I agree with you — we have to stop fixating on the Oilers as the negative rebuilding case. The Hawks are a great counterpoint. Ditto Tampa Bay. In fact, there are lots of successful rebuilds. Buffalo might even be one in a few years. It just goes to show how bad the Oilers management have been.

          • silentbob

            The Leafs rebuild will be their own, though it may “borrow” elements from the flames model-the hard work and compete part.

            People seem to think this can go only one way-but I think this is totally wrong.

            The Leafs are not Tampa Bay, Chicago, Pittsburg or Edmonton.

            Who knows what Reilly, Gardiner, William Nylander , C.Brown, Brendan Leipsic, Antoine Bibeau, Frederik Gauthier,Rinat Valiev,Andreas Johnson, Casey Bailey,Sam Carrick,Stuart Percy,
            and whoever the Leafs pick #4 & 24th this draft will
            look like in 3 years.

            Yes it’s going to take years for the Leafs to develop their core, but the work starts now and that means
            whoever is on the ice in a Leafs jersey should have the tools to compete every night to gain the respect
            of the media, the fans and their opponents.

          • Jeremy Ian

            Agreed, there are lots of rebuilding models, and which to select depends on your mix of assets and liabilities. But what the Leafs do have to do is rebuild the development system. Shanahan and Babcock have been explicit about this, and they are totally right.

            At the moment, the best assets for rebuilding the development system are the two best players. Exchange their present value for future value.

          • Jeremy Ian

            I’m in agreement about Kessel, I guess my point really is that
            when dealing Phaneuf I wouldn’t want to take a bad contract like S.Weise back.

            Phaneuf’s contract is long yes but if the Leafs didn’t sign him for what he got, someone else would of.
            In other words Phaneuf’s contract is market value
            and we should be patient even if it takes a year,

            and since Detroit was willing to trade for Phaneuf
            and I heard Babcock himself praise Phaneuf,
            I think it might easily be a reality that Phaneuf stays a Leaf for the time being.

            No matter what the consensus is on Leaf Nation.

          • Jeremy Ian

            PS: Taking back a bad contract in the short run only makes sense if you are giving your trading partner the means to shoulder the trade, with the real swap being for prospects and picks. So, take on the bad contract IF what you are also getting back are some gems for the future. The stinker rolls off the books right around the time that the team is starting to gel.

          • silentbob

            You’re rigt, we don’t know how any of those young players will turn out yet, which is why finishing 11-9, or out of the bottom 3 for the next few years, would be the worst thing for them. They ned to out themselves in a situation to draft the 2-3 guys who will be us what Toews, Kane and Keith are for the Hawks.

          • silentbob

            That story just don’t hunt with babcock as coach.
            I think the story will unfold more like the
            Detroit situation where the Leafs develop the picks they get -where they get them.

            They will focus on a strong team and possession game.
            And again the NHL is doing everything in their power to stop teams from tanking so finishing just out of the playoffs will still give them a strong chance at top draft picks.

            But Nylander, Brown and possibly Mitch Marner could be the Leafs future top line, with the Goat handling the defensive side of things,Holland and Kadri handling secondary scoring, and I haven’t given up on Bernier developing into a top goalie.

            Reilly and Gardiner taking the next step towards a truly mobile defense corp, with Percy being in the mix as well.

            And who knows -I know it is a long shot but if the Leafs finally hit a home run with a free agent like Stamkos well then all bets are off.

          • silentbob

            It sounds like you don’t want them to rebuild but to re-tool a little bit…..every indication we are getting from/about the team is that that isn’t the case. That this is a full on rebuild, and both Shanahan and Babcock have warned that it will take a while.

    • silentbob

      Your funny…Every team in the league know’s that the leafs have been horrible for pretty much 4 decades now…the culture of losing was born in Toronto and only a leaf fan is blind to that. Thank’s for the laugh though. Enjoy another decade of the losing culture.

      • silentbob

        Your funny…Every team in the league know’s that the leafs have been horrible for pretty much 4 decades now…the culture of losing was born in Toronto and only a leaf fan is blind to that. Thank’s for the laugh though. Enjoy another decade of the losing culture.

        The Leafs have had their ups and downs “in the last four decades” but just the amount of # 1 picks on the
        Oilers presently speaks to my point that the Oilers have been around the bottom of the league for the past few years without much improvement-something I wish the Leafs to avoid. Calgary looked like they were going in a death spiral but quickly and really miraculously pulled themselves out mostly by gaining the reputation of being the hardest working team in the league. My point was I think the Leafs should and will emulate the Flames not the Edmonton version of
        a rebuild.

      • Gary Empey

        Regarding drafting for need. I have read here numerous times ” Drafting for need usually doesn’t turn out too well”

        The oilers have drafted best available player for the last five years. Completely ignoring their desperate need for defenceman. {2013-Darnell Nurse being the exception, though he wasn’t able to make the team this year}.

        In 2012 they chose Nail Yakupov #1 overall. That year out of the first 10 players selected, 8 were defencemen.

        1 Edmonton Nail Yakupov R
        -2 Columbus Ryan Murray D
        -3 Montreal Alex Galchenyuk C
        -4 NY Islanders Griffin Reinhart D
        -5 Toronto Morgan Rielly D
        -6 Anaheim Hampus Lindholm D
        -7 Minnesota Mathew Dumba D
        -8 Pittsburgh Derrick Pouliot D
        -9 Winnipeg Jacob Trouba D
        -10 Tampa Bay Slater Koekkoek D

        What they have created is a Frankenstein team better suited to be playing on the North Saskatchewan River.

  • Gary Empey

    If you trade Kessel the next thing you will say is ” we have to get a goal scorer”

    If you are expecting to do it through the draft pick you receive for him, here is a look at the last five #1 picks with their point totals for this year.

    Kessel’s points in the year they were drafted are next to them.

    Aaron Ekblad -39 points -Kessel 61 points

    Nathan MacKinnon -34 points -Kessel -80 points

    Nail Yakupov – 33 points -Kessel -52 points

    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -56 points -Kessel -82 points

    Taylor Hall – 38 points -Kessel -64 points

    I would not be in a big rush to trade a player of Kessel’s caliber.

    • Gary Empey

      If you are expecting to do it through the draft pick you receive for him, here is a look at the last five #1 picks with their point totals for this year. Kessel’s points in the year they were drafted are next to them.

      your points are valid but Leafs have decided to promote a rebuild and they have stated clearly the present core is not good enough.

      Kessel will garner the best return,
      the Leafs are committed to the “pain ” of not having an “elite goal scorer”
      Kessel will not be an elite goal scorer by the time the Leafs are once again competing for the cup.

      In the mean time beyond the return of a first round pick plus, -the cap space opened up by Kessel being traded allows the Leafs to be opportunistic to acquire more assets by taking on a bad contract or two from other teams hard against the cap.

      The Leafs now have a high cap total which is not acceptable considering the Leafs are the 4th worse team in the league. It is clear the Leafs need to
      dump some contracts and Kessel has the highest salary on the team -and it is clear he is not part of the rebuild.

      Time to trade Kessel.

      Two speps back -one step forward!

  • Gary Empey

    I agree with jeffler, let the babcock bump raise their stock a little bit before selling them. this also gives prospects a little more time to develop before throwing them to the sharks.

    • Gary Empey

      It’s a good thing Jeffrey isn’t management. Kessel and Phaneuf are assets to be moved ASAP. This is the deepest draft in years and the possibility for another top ten pick on a building team should be pursued. If there are reasonable trades to be made, Kessel Bozak Lupul and others will not be here on opening day.

  • Gary Empey

    I think they will both be traded. I think this is similar to Buffalo’s rebuild in that Buffalo traded basically every established high priced star they had. I fully expect next year’s Leafs team to resemble the last 2 years Sabers teams. How fast we rebuild will be determined by trading Kessel. If we trade Kessel and get good young assets back for him then the rebuild probably won’t take as long. But the way Babcock coaches will mean that if we retain Kessel and Phaneuf than this team will forever be stuck in obscurity/mediocrity and forever drafting between 9th and 13th in the draft where the percentages of drafting the superstar players the team needs are greatly reduced. It’s time to take 2 steps back for the organization so it can take 3 giant steps forward.

  • CMpuck

    Dump Dion, if you get what you want for Kessel pounce if not, showcase him, dangle him to play with Stamkos. Just make a smart move, I’m sick of Toronto GMs being the biggest embarrassment in the league.

  • silentbob


    Both have been here for multiple coaching and GM changes and have consistently remained who they are, I think it’s ridiculous to assume THIS time they’ll change. And letting them play under Babcock to raise their trade value is a gamble, if they don’t respond well their value could drop even lower.

    Neither has proven (from what’s been reported and what we’ve seen on the ice) neither is a good/strong leader or the kind of player you want around to influence young players breaking into the league.

    Both are in their late 20s, in 5+ years when this team is ready to compete again both will be at the end of, if not past their prime.

    It appears that Shanahan plans to blow this team up and completely rebuild it, if Babcock wasn’t on the same page I doubt they would have hired him. Kessel and Phaneuf should be traded ASAP, Shanahan should stick to the plan.

    • silentbob

      And what if Phaneuf doesn’t respond to Babcock (remember when Carlyle was the guy who was going to most out of our players?), and what if kessel didn’t have an off year, but just regressed ……. They could be missing the opportunity to get the max possible value for them.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Those are a lot of ifs. Detroit was interested in Phaneuf last year and Babcock was with them. Kessel has scored 30+ every year except for a bad half year under Horachek. History would say that Phaneuf has good trade value and Kessel will bounce back with a good bench boss. If you get rid of them at the wrong time you rob your own pocket.

        • silentbob

          Just because Babcock was ok with adding Phaneuf to the red wings doesn’t mean he’ll want him on the maple leafs. Two different teams, in two different situations, with different needs.

          Kessel will be 28 at the start of NXT year, he wouldn’t be the first player to regress at that age.

          Holding on to them is a risk too. I also don’t buy that half a season hurt Kessels trade value that much, if at all.

  • jasken

    First of all there is a misconception here goal scorers never sell below their market value they are what they are. To make an assumption that a goal scorer’s value dropper because of 1 season that’s just stupid. Shanny had a bad season with 25 goals and 53 points his lowest total in 15 years and what happened the next season 40 goals and 41 assists under Babcock. So to make an assumption out of decreased value or that Babcock has had less talented players is hilarious he went through exactly what happened with Kessel with Shanny. Only difference was Shanny was 34-35 not 27 hitting his prime Kessel has lots of mileage left if Babcock is given the opportunity I think he could make Kessel into a complete player.

    Phaneuf is a solid defenceman in the right role and as Shanny put it has leadership qualities needed with the right coach and tutelage who is to say these 2 cant be better and help those coming in they have the talent just need proper guidance.

  • Jeremy Ian

    They have to go, much as I like both of them for different reasons.

    It would be a huge mistake to take a big step forward by hiring a great coach and then stall. It’s a classic. You start feeling the positive effects of improvement, so the urgency goes away. Companies do this all the time. So do governments. Witness: how Obama messed up reforming the financial system after 2008. He bailed out the banks, the crisis dissipated, and the banks are back to the old habits.

    There’s a reason why Shanahan has a strategic plan: so you stick to it. It’s called a precommitment device. For once we have one. Please, let’s use it!

    The only debatable thing is the value you get in return. I am with those who would throw Bozak, and even Lupul into the mix if you can.

    Their value’s not going to rise or fall with a few months of Babcock and it just confuses things. No decent manager’s going to fall prey to short run effects. (Though, ahem, Nonis did….Look where it got him)

  • Jeremy Ian

    But Babcock had his eyes on the Red Wings who are pushing to advance now. On a team much further behind the development curve, not sure Babcock would give Phaneuf the same value. So, I am with the majority view on moving him, and I suspect that Babcock et al feel the same.

    Agreed, the contract that Nonis gave Phaneuf reflected market value. I didn’t have that many issues with it. It was all the other nonsense that Nonis committed that made a mockery of it. No need to rehash that story, but Nonis took the imperfect Burke team and pretzeled it.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Who could of believed Clarkson would be such a complete bust in Toronto!!!!!

      It would be just Toronto’s luck to sign Stamkos as a free agent and he only scores 10 goals in his first season here……

      Backcock also was talking about how Toronto will become a destination for free agents in the future……..

      • Jeremy Ian

        There was plenty of worry about David Clarkson.

        Going into UFA season, have a look at Steve Dangle and especially Cam Charron’s worries about Nonis falling into a trap of his own making:

        (that’s June 18, 2015)

        I love the point he made about Kulemin being what we were about the get…Now, look at Cam’s reaction after the July 5 signing:

        He nailed the problem of the contract length on the head, and also warned that DC needed a great play-driving center, which he never got.

        So, yeah, there were people prophesizing that he would be a bust.

        This is why managers need to look at the data and not get caught in their decision making biases.

        Thankfully, the Leafs take this stuff seriously now.

        • Jeremy Ian

          There is a lot of difference between worrying about
          the length of a given contract and predicting a player who had just scored 30 goals and who also was a major contributor of a team who went to the finals
          was going to be a complete and utter bust.

          It was like a deja vu of the J Blake situation,
          and had similarities to the Stempniak trade.

          One always overpays at free agency this is a fact.

          The Leafs are very very lucky that the DC contract for all intents and purposes is gone away.
          Having a lot of money can lead a team to bad decisions.

          I think the Sharks are in for another bad year
          (talking about unmovable contracts)

  • TGT23

    Of course we should keep Kessel and Phaneuf. They are out best two players. An upgrade on Kessel is Ovechkin or Towes or Crosby, on Phanuf Shae Weber, or Drew Doughty. If you can’t trade them for those guys you keep them.