There are a lot of Torontonians who like to talk about hockey. Consequently, there are a lot of Torontonians who discuss hockey very well and are a pleasure to make conversation with. This is part of the reason I joined the Toronto Maple Leafs blogosphere, because I found myself interacting online with many intelligent members of the Leafs community.
The flip side is that there are also lots of people who talk about “re-setting the standards of a once-proud NHL franchise” and honestly believe that any team in the modern NHL will be able to win handfuls of Stanley Cups in short periods of time. These are also the types of people who believe that the Leafs’ issues don’t result from a lack of depth, but that the team’s best players are to blame for its shortcomings.
“There’d be no better time to trade Phil Kessel,” writes Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star, who seems to think that when a team doesn’t have enough good players, the solution is to trade good players:
considering his excellent run of play as the league’s sixth-leading regular-season scorer has put his value at an all-time high. Don’t for a moment believe that Nonis, fresh off delivering a no-Leaf-is-untouchable post-season message, isn’t thinking hard about the possibility.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting all is sunshine and roses in Toronto. But Phil Kessel is the team’s best player in both the neutral and offensive zones by quite a big margin. The limited zone entry data and scoring chance involvement statistics I’ve seen bear that out. If you follow @ShutdownLine, occasionally he’ll post zone entry totals of teams he doesn’t usually track. Kessel is an absolute juggernaut, usually going into the double digits of controlled entries. Eventually, I’ll get around to posting scoring chance involvement statistics, most of which show that Kessel is very good at controlling the play in the offensive zone. He doesn’t take a lot of shots that are considered scoring chances, but he sets up a very high amount and is hands down the Maple Leafs’ best playmaker.
He’s also on a great deal. With a year left at $5.4-million, he’s cheap, and the Leafs have the cap space to surround him with one or two real good pieces this offseason and convince him to re-sign.
Why would Kessel be a smart chip to cash in? He’s a perimeter-hugging winger in a net-front league playing
We’ve been over this. Kessel doesn’t drive to the net because he’s usually the player with the puck. He’s better off creating space with his speed than his size, and Kessel not driving the net doesn’t cost the Leafs very many goals. Since 2009 among players with 3000 even strength minutes, he’s 31st in the NHL in on-ice goal rate and tops on Toronto, ahead of players like Henrik Zetterberg, Rick Nash and Evander Kane.
Phaneuf’s stock, weighed down by a hefty $6.5 million salary, is in the tank. Kessel’s, by contrast, is soaring. Given the local wont to buy high and bail low, it’d be a welcome change for a Toronto GM to recoup a decent haul on an investment as costly as Kessel
No, that’s Joffrey Lupul, an oft-injured winger whose stock has been inflated by consecutive high shooting percentage seasons leading to a big contract extension. By contrast, Kessel is better with puck-possession, better at defence and better in the offensive zone. I can recognize that we’re sort of “stuck” with Lupul here. He didn’t get cold at all this year, missing games due to two different injuries and a suspension, he did manage to score 14 times in the 23 games he played which is absolutely nuts. But he’s not that good. His percentages are very high, just like Kadri’s were halfway through this season before he fell off.
So yes, that’s what “inflated stock” means. Kessel’s stock isn’t “soaring”. He’s a good player and has always been real good, and it must sting at the sides of writers who didn’t get the chance to write about how Kessel shied away from the bigger stage of the playoffs and didn’t contribute. Kessel was the team’s best forward, no matter what metric you use.
The kicker for me with Feschuk’s article is how he suggests the Leafs spend the extra cash:
The Leafs are also certain to be among the suitors of David Clarkson, the impending unrestricted free agent with the New Jersey Devils. That Clarkson is Toronto-born and media-savvy doesn’t matter as much that he plays the wing with a Bruins-worthy heaviness and has scored 30 goals in a season.
Trade good players, buy unrestricted free agents, I guess. That strategy works all the time. Feschuk ought to have stopped writing when he says that Clarkson being “Toronto-born and media-savvy doesnt matter”. He’d be right.
Interestingly, Feschuk seems to say his value is soaring, while the Star back in March of 2012 called Kessel’s value “maximum”. Somehow, it keeps getting higher. In January, Damien Cox said that Kessel “may be poised to struggle through his most difficult season in a Leaf uniform yet.” What do they have against this player? Players that have high stocks that tend to stay high are generally quite good.
By the way, for those of you still convinced that Toronto lost the original trade, consider that Tyler Seguin is struggling to look worthwhile on the Boston Bruins’ third line, had his first line spot taken by a 40-year-old, and that Dougie Hamilton hasn’t played since Game 4 against the New York Rangers.