Embracing the Kessel Trade

I’ve had the privilege of being too busy over the past few
days to have the opportunity to witness the constant outrage over the Kessel
trade on twitter and various other places online. Part of me hoped that all the
dirt kicking would stop, but childish articles from Steve Simmons seemed to
pour more gas on the fire. (Note: Why the hell does anyone still read or care
about Simmons?)

Anyways, I thought I’d weigh in with my very simplistic view
on why I support the Kessel trade, and believe it had to happen now, and why
it’s time to move past it. (Fun Fact: You can still like Phil Kessel on the
Penguins. I like Malkin, he plays on the Penguins. I hate the team, but he’s
sure nice. I think I’ll do the same with Phil.)

The Return

Before the trade deadline I came to terms with the fact that
I would never like the return on Kessel, and it seemed like a trade the Leafs
were destined to lose, but had to make nonetheless. It seemed likely that
although Kessel is an elite scorer it would be next to impossible to pry away
the top prospect from any organization in a trade and that’s just an
unfortunate reality of how teams need to be built in the cap era. Although he’s
been playing for the better part of two seasons in the NHL already, it’s clear
that the top young player on the Penguins is Olli Maata and that especially
with the money committed to forwards on the Penguins, they wouldn’t be parting
with a good cheap defenseman. After that you could argue that Pouliot is the
next best prospect, but honestly, I am much happier with getting Kapanen
instead of him. Derrick Pouliot is one of many players that could’ve benefitted
from being part of a powerhouse Winterhawks team in junior, and since his
former junior coach is now the head coach of the Penguins, it would be a tough
sell on getting him anyway. So instead the Leafs received Harrington as an
additional prospect to Kapanen, and get a slightly older, slightly less flashy
defenseman who certainly seems like a blue chip for the NHL, but likely not for
the top pairing.

Acquiring the Penguins 1st was absolutely vital
for my acceptance of this trade, but it does seem likely that the pick will
come in the later part of the first. With the 2016 draft being relatively
strong, although not necessarily as strong as the 2015 draft, it’s entirely
possible the Leafs will be finding a player that could easily fit into the top
of Leafs roster in a few years. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that Kapanen,
Harrington, or this late 1st round pick will ever have a career that
will match Kessel’s but the combination addresses several future needs and
gives the organization depth it’s lacked.

I’ll ignore the mild disappointment of flipping the
Pittsburgh 2nd, for their 3rd (EDIT: NJ’s 3rd), as it’s just a minimal
drop in quality of prospect and look at the last piece, Nick Spaling. Spaling
is a serviceable bottom six player on a decent who just happens to be making a
little more money than he’s probably worth. If Spaling is in anyway productive
this season he might bring a modest return at the trade deadline and that made
him an affordable gamble and reasonable roster spot placeholder to keep Toronto
from rushing prospects into the lineup.

Retaining Salary

This is easily the biggest point of disappointment for most
(asides from the whole losing Kessel part.) Having to eat $1.2M of salary for
the next seven years is not pleasant, but it’s a modest dull sting as opposed
to taking on Scuderi, Kunitz, or Dupuis and not having the immediate flexibility
the Leafs earned in this deal. Is Kessel so great that you shouldn’t have to do
anything along these lines in order to trade him? In principle yes, in practice
you have eight teams you can deal with, each of them very close to the cap
ceiling, and some of them with very minimal interest in adding an expensive
winger. So given the limited market and the cap reality, this needed to happen.

Cap Space and Why
this Deal Had to Happen Now

The importance of the Kessel occurring now basically stems
from the cap space earned. Kessel’s $8M cap hit was replaced with $1.2M of
retained salary, and Spaling’s $2.2M cap hit, giving the Leafs $4.6M additional
money to work with this summer, and $6.8M next summer.

If Kessel stayed with the Leafs, potentially you’d get a
similar or possibly slightly improved deal at the trade deadline or next
summer. So basically your return is still 2 prospects, a 1st, and a
small salary dump. You would have had Kessel for another year, and he would
improve your team giving you a better chance at the playoffs with a worse shot
at a better lottery pick. I’d argue the lottery pick is more important right

With that $4.6M of opened cap space the Leafs have essentially
added P.A. Parenteau, Marc Arcobello, and Shawn Matthias on one year deals. So
potentially with the Kessel deal occurring now, you’ve added three additional
pieces to deal that could all return additional picks or prospects over the
course of the season which would likely surpass the additional return you’d get
while playing the “wait and see” game with Kessel. To an even greater extent
adding these temporary players you’ve now given the Leafs the opportunity to
free up additional roster players with term for moving this summer, and with a
reduced importance of shedding further salary now that the cap pressure has
been alleviated.

Since the Leafs are still well under the cap with only
Marincin and Bernier to re-sign, it’s understandable to make the case that the
Leafs could have brought in a number of the players they did anyways without
resorting to the Kessel cap space and this is somewhat true, but having
additional space to in order to facilitate further transactions throughout the
year is vital to not handcuffing the speed in which the rebuild can occur.

This in no way
changed your mind, did it?

I get it, most of us really love Phil and it’s hard to see
him leave in a deal that on the surface is disappointing. It’s also hard to
predict when the Leafs will have the opportunity to add an elite young player
in their 20s to the roster at the time that they need one. The reality of this,
is that Kessel would be entering his 30s around the next time the Leafs are
entering the playoffs, and that with the amount of prospect depth the Leafs
have been working towards in the short term, it’s entirely possible the Leafs
will have the movable assets required to bring in a talented player the next
time a playoff team begins to fall out of contention.

In closing, I’ll miss Phil, the trade expected left me
wanting, but I can see that this was a necessary step for the Leafs to ever
move forward. 

  • Douglas

    Hear, hear. I agree with pretty much everything you write today. Whenever a star player and a team decide to divorce, for whatever reason, the best course of action is to just cut bait. Nothing good would have come from keeping Phil for any part of next season as a MapleLeaf. It’s not healthy for either the team or Phil. It was obvious that management wanted him gone so the best course of action is to just do it and move on.

    I wish Phil all the best as a penguin but he’s not a Leaf anymore and I don’t really care about him anymore. My interest is on the Leafs and the players that will suit up for the Blue and White next year.

  • Douglas

    Generalfanager.com says that we got Devils 3rd round pick instead of Penguins, not sure if that’s a mistake or not, but if it is the devils then that makes it a bit more better.

    As for the trade it self, I don’t mind it, we did make our prospect pool better and a first round pick in a decent draft next year, I believe that Shanahan did the right thing

  • This was never going to be a sexy trade. The potential payoff is too far in the future for people to get excited about but that’s what we need.

    Good on you, Jon, for knowing ahead of time that you weren’t going to like whatever trade was completed for Kessel.

  • Jeremy Ian

    The only way to make this work psychologically for fans is to conclude that the Leafs had no choice. But the fact is, there were choices.

    At this stage, it’s done. It’s not a catastrophe, just a missed opportunity. Let’s just hope some of the pieces they picked up wind up being contributors.

    One effect of all this, however, is to reinforce the wastage that was the Nonis-Carlyle era (and to some extent Burke) for not building properly around the team’s strategic advantages.

  • Kanuunankuula

    I’m stilling waiting for the “embracing the Clarkson signing” blog entry. And I say that sarcastically because I’m a bit disappointed by the style of writing here.

    Why do you bloggers need to follow the leads of traditional hockey writers by taking sides on the debate and position it as positive or negative or what have you. This is sort of like a rip off of mitten stringers’s Steve Simmons style of writing while woofing down a hot dog.

    Previously I had to read about the devastation about retaining salary on Gunnar or Frattin (for 1 to 2 years) to trade for Polak/Bernier. And now 7 years of kessel is somehow a mild inconvenience. Come on – us readers – are not stupid. Maybe this style works on Steve Simmons readers but credit us some intelligence please. Or tell me about how the potato set back the leafs a decade by trading Colbourne for a 4th pick and now somehow this small return for kessel is just hunky dory. Again I exaggerate but this to me is just as terrible as having to read about Kessel’s hot dog habits.

    What I would like from bloggers instead list the pros and cons and viable facts. Maybe at the end offer your opinion if you must but if I wanted someone’s opinion shoved on me I can read Sun.

    #no spin zone
    #just the facts

    • Gary Empey

      “I’m a bit disappointed by the style of writing here.”

      One should remember many Leaf fans live in other provinces and other countries. While they likely have access to the internet the Toronto papers want you to pay to read their articles. I can’t justify paying to read what Simmons, Cox, and others have to say about the Leafs.

      I appreciate the information I get from this site both writers and commenters (including yourself). Even this recap of the Kessel trade.

      In this article or some other one. I would have liked to see more depth on some things like the salary cap and long term contracts.Why teams have to retain salary or take back a overpaid player to close the deal.

      Strange as it may seem if Chicago put either Toews or Kane on waivers 20 NHL teams couldn’t claim them as they don’t have cap space.

      I wonder how the fans in Chicago feel seeing their favourite players jettisoned just after winning the Stanley Cup.

    • Harte of a Lion

      If you don’t follow the party line you will take a lot of heat. I knew it was going to be a hell of a long season at training camp last year when Kessel gave his infamous state of the union address of how he had a long leash and thus he played his way and that was just the way it was. At about the same time another player who has developed into a 30 goal scorer, Max Pacioretty of the Habs gave a state of the union address. He told everyone that he was honoured to be an alternate captain for the Canadians and he would set an example for the younger players and the team by working hard at all facets of his game.

      The fact that I pointed out that Kessel’s attitude would be poisonous for the leaf club was berated by a number of people. Well, well just read how everyone now realizes management had to get rid of the guy.

      An analogy occurred about a year and a half ago as the Raptors got rid of the one dimensional Rudy Gay. They got four players back with only Patrick Patterson remaining of the gang of four. But removing Gay changed the chemistry of the team entirely.

    • “What I would like from bloggers instead list the pros and cons and viable facts. Maybe at the end offer your opinion if you must but if I wanted someone’s opinion shoved on me I can read Sun.”

      I think you don’t quite understand what blogs are…

  • Brooksterman

    I could not have seen Kessel working with Babcock if he had stayed. Babcock is renowned for being 10 times harder on his own players than any other coach. He’s a stickler for details and will have quite fewer optional practices. He even said he expects his best players to be his hardest workers in every aspect of the game. Plus if Phil was still here next year than he would have had to face the media after every game. He had issues with talking to the media before and the Leafs didn’t always make him available after games. Kessel being here next year was a recipe for disaster. Plus the analytics and trends say that goal scorers tend to start going down hill after 31 and he’d have 2-3 years left on his contract. His offense relies heavily on his speed and the first thing that starts to go down hill as a hockey player ages is his foot speed. I could easily see him being out of the league by 35 just based on trends and what usually happens when a player ages after 30. It’s clearly a risk vs reward scenario that the leafs thought the risk in keeping him was too great to over look.

  • FlareKnight

    Somewhat ironic to talk about wanting the Kessel trade debate to pass….and then throwing more fuel on the Kessel trade debate.

    On the positive at least the last section admitted it was basically not going to change any minds just appeal to those who already agreed with the points being made.

    It was a bad trade, I’m not going to spend the summer bothered by it, but it still was a garbage trade. The Leafs wanted to move Kessel no matter what and had no leverage. Had to give the Pens everything they wanted in this deal just to get Kessel off the roster.

    Such is how it goes. All we can hope is that in the end the losing trades we are going to make to eject this core will lead to success in the long term.

  • Gary Empey

    Good for Kessel imo.

    Going back south with CDN dollar tanking, less pressure with other star players, and no TO media.

    He could likely get 50 plus goals imo and a guranteed playoff run all the while working for Mario. If he can score 30 goals with the Leafs this should be a breeze in Pittsburgh. Pens fans should have much to be excited about.

    Leafs get more players for fewer bucks.

    Ps can we imagine how poorer the Leafs would of been without him? I wish him well and thank him for coming to Canada to play.

  • Gary Empey

    Regarding Jessel trade ,he was labeled a coach killer.Big bucks BAbcock wasn going down as his next. Victim . It confirms Babcock calls the Shots, Go Leafs,

    • Harte of a Lion

      It still rankles Hab fans that Babcock sat out the Norris trophy winning prima donna Subban during the last Olympics. But Babcock was right. Even the Habs coach would bench Subban at times for a period or two.

  • @GaryEmpey

    “One should remember many Leaf fans live in other provinces and other countries. While they likely have access to the internet the Toronto papers want you to pay to read their articles. I can’t justify paying to read what Simmons, Cox, and others have to say about the Leafs.”

    You nailed it Gary! I am a Leafs fan in Virginia, and while I can use a VPN to access Canadian websites and papers, I have found that Theleafsnation.com provides just as good if not better coverage. This is, in the States and my opinion, the best Leafs website on the net. The candor is refreshing, and it allows for reader participation. I used to be a member of the mapleleafs forums on their official website, but it was full of trolls and whiners. The comments and the commenters on here are more informed and, to be honest, much more classy.

    Thanks to mapleleafsnation.com for hooking up those of us would bleed Blue and White here in the States.

  • Gary Empey

    For what it is worth here is a report from Hockey Feed.

    Report: Phil Kessel not happy about being traded from Toronto.
    July 6, 2015

    When Phil Kessel was traded we felt it would be a huge relief for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Kessel himself, but that may not be the case.

    In a recent interview with Pokerlistings.com fellow Canadian and friend of Kessel Daniel Negraneau seemed to indicate the Kessel, while excited about his new teammates, is sad to be leaving the city.

    “I spoke to Kessel and he’s obviously sad because he really loves Toronto,” said Negreanu. “But I look at it as a great opportunity for him.”

    It’s not just leaving the city that has Kessel torn up either, according to Negreanu Kessel is also upset at the fact that his tenure in Toronto really didn’t work out the way he had hoped it would.

    “I think it’ll be a great opportunity for him you know?” Negreanu said. “That part hasn’t sunk in for him yet. It still just hurts for him because he wanted to win in Toronto and it just didn’t work out.”

    It’s a fairly shocking look into the mind of a player many accused of having no heart, and no desire to win.

    • Jeremy Ian

      This makes sense. Who likes to look at many years’ effort at the peak of one’s game and summarize them as a failure? No competitive athlete, no ambitious executive, no aspiring artist I know….

  • Gary Empey

    Got bad news here.

    You’re not flipping the 2nd for a 3rd. You’re flipping your second for their 1st.

    “Wait, what?” you ask?

    K, where do the Penguins finish next season? No worse than 16th overall. There is no way they do worse next season than this. There’s also a significantly increased chance that they win the Cup. They’re not the favourites, but Chicago is weaker, St. Louis is coming off another disappointment yet sticking with its coach, Anaheim is getting desperate and older but that desperation probably makes them stronger, New York is weaker, and Montreal still doesn’t have a first line centre. So realistically speaking, the Penguins’ pick will be anywhere from 20th-30th.

    Where are the Leafs next season? Well… they finished 27th this season – with Kessel. Finishing below them were the Oilers, Sabres, and Coyotes. Two of those teams got significantly better this off-season.

    Realistically speaking, the Leafs are due for a 29th place finish.

    So you could be trading the 32 overall pick for the 30th overall.

    • silentbob

      The 2nd the Leafs gave the Penguins was their own 2nd pick the Leafs got in a previous deal. The Leafs still have their own 2nd round pick next year, along with the Penguins 1st and the Devils 3rd

      So in your scenario (assuming the lottery didn’t change position) the Leafs would pick 2nd, 30, 32, 62 and then have the Devils 3rd round pick, while they gave up the 60th pick.

  • jasken

    I wasn’t a fan of the Kessel comes with an understanding on what Kessel was about great guy, elite talent. But he has no clue what he is, has no understanding of off-ice importantance, it is irrelevant and one who needs to know him off ice is insane to him.

    But when players do this “I was always anxious about it. I was stressed out that my body fat was too high or I wasn’t going to be ready to go. So when I first got to Toronto, I latched on to Phil. He was the big guy on the team, so I figured I could weasel through it with him,” what Kessel was doing was effecting his team. Although it be unknowingly and unintentional its what happens the betas are following him.

    Management says this about Kessel “He doesn’t work very hard. He doesn’t work on his game. He doesn’t work on his conditioning. To quote one of Leaf management, ‘Guys, he’s a freak,’ in that he can play at the absolute highest level at the highest speed with hands like nobody has without working at it.” Now its a serious issue because the players that should be doing those things aren’t their following Kessel’s lead.

    Shanny and Babcock no way want this Alpha back not because of his talents but in oblivious nature on what happens off the ice.

  • silentbob

    Fantastic article. Very objective with a little bit of editorial commentary. I wish 80% of the plugs in the Toronto main stream media, and Bleacher Report had 20% of the intelligence displayed here.

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