Why You Don’t Trade Phil Kessel

Dave Feschuk put out an article in the Toronto Star today that caught my attention. His point is in no way ambiguous, being the direct headline; the Maple Leafs should trade Phil Kessel. In his eyes, "there’s never been a better time". It’s hard to call an opinion piece wrong, but you can make some judgements. My judgments are that his conclusions are poor, and that his basis is flawed. Let’s look through it.

If you’re any kind of fan, maybe you’ll never get over it. It was a little more than three weeks ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs were seconds away from ousting the Boston Bruins from the NHL playoffs. Now that the Bruins are a game removed from sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins for a berth in the Stanley Cup final — well, it’s only natural to relive Toronto’s epic near-miss with a never-ending procession of what-ifs.

Right off the bat, Feschuk opens the piece to by playing to the readers emotions and opening their imagination. It’s a very effective strategy, and one that shows that he’s not a poor writer, just someone who will make poor statements over the course of the post. Reminding the undecided of the loss will automatically have them in a "I wish things were different" state of mind, allowing for easier agreement to change. Similarly, mentioning Boston’s success plants into one’s mind that a change will lead to strong dividends.

The issue with this? Phil Kessel was not a problem in the Boston series, finishing second on the Leafs in points, first in goals, and scoring two game winners (and with two minutes to go, looked to have three in his sights). As well, Boston’s success is situational. Much like we were shown anything can happen in the playoffs by those 7 games, you have no clue how Toronto would match up to the New York Rangers, and if they advanced, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Leafs are not an identical team to Boston; their attempts to mimic them lead to an embarrassing Game 1 loss. They would have different approaches to both of those teams, and likely different results. Moving forward.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

But if there’s no re-seizing a moment that’s been lost, MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke is bent on re-setting the standards of a once-proud NHL franchise.

“We understand the only thing that matters here, for the greatest fan base in the history of the National Hockey League — and, by the way, the most important organization in the National Hockey League — is winning a Stanley Cup for Toronto,” Leiweke said in a video address to season-ticket holders this week.

In the YouTube-posted message, Leiweke also offered an endorsement for the team’s current brain trust while uttering a four-word sentence that would make any NHL executive nervous, specifically: “I’m a hockey fan.”

“I will bring more enthusiasm and more passion,” Leiweke said. “What you can be assured of is we’re going to work even harder.”

Leiweke’s statement doesn’t add anything to the Kessel argument. Much like the opening paragraph, it’s used as a device to get you into the frame of mine of commitment to victory, including the potential for change. The same statement that he made about the Raptors and Toronto FC. It’s also a way of reporting it’s existence, because really, it wasn’t significant enough for its own article. Not just in a newspaper, anywhere.

Somewhere, Leafs forward Phil Kessel is on a golf course saying: “Harder? That’s a joke, right?”

Feschuk begins to get to the point, with a reference to off-ice commitment issues that have largely been speculated with little to no merit. Over his time in Toronto, Kessel has steadily improved his conditioning, leading to longer shifts taken, more two way efforts, better play late in games, and more game-to-game consistency. These are all things that imply that Kessel has been committing to the athletic aspect of his game. In fact, the only publication that still seems to push the concept of Kessel not wanting to work to succeed is the Toronto Star, with Damien Cox being the last to question him.

And somewhere else, GM Dave Nonis and his management team are pounding the phones to bolster a flawed team in need of improvement in nearly every area. It’s exactly what they should be doing. With a little more than three weeks until the June 30 draft, now’s when off-season trade talks traditionally begin their slow build. As Leiweke has made clear, Nonis should talk a lot, since the status quo won’t cut it.

Dave Nonis means business, making every effort in sight to improve his team! In other words, he’s every NHL GM ever (with varying success, of course). But finally, we get to the meat.

But making big changes to the Toronto roster, with the NHL salary cap shrinking from around $70 million (all figures U.S.) to about $64 million, will require bold vision and savvy manoeuvring (sic) that many fans might consider sacrilege.

Here’s the thing about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thanks to Brian Burke’s stubbornness about running a team under his concepts rather than the NHL rulebook, the Leafs are arguably in the best shape of any team in the league going into the cap crunch.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Other than the five years left on James van Riemsdyk’s contract (which looks like a bargain), there isn’t a single long term contract to worry about on the Leafs roster. Just three players on the team make more than 5 million dollars (Kessel, Grabovski, and Phaneuf). There are a couple of iffy contracts in Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles, but with two cap-compliance buyouts available, they aren’t an issue. In fact, those buyouts may not even be necessary – Komisarek’s contract is a year from expiry, and with length being the only issue on Liles’ deal, a team may give up something minimal to take him rather than one of the few available UFA defencemen.

This leaves the Leafs with 19 million dollars to spend this year (23 if they part ways with Liles). Yes, there are contracts that need to be resigned, but they will be hard pressed to hit that number. Up front, Nazem Kadri will likely be on a bridge contract simlar to Matt Duchene’s, Clarke MacArthur will likely walk, and I can’t see the team coming to terms with Tyler Bozak. This leaves Leo Komarov, Joe Colborne, Fraser McLaren, and Colton Orr, who will average out to approximately peanuts. On the back end, Carl Gunnarsson and Cody Franson will probably command about 3 million, leaving Mark Fraser, Ryan O’Byrne, and Mike Kostka, who if retained, will get replacement level salaries.

Really, the only crunch the Leafs have is if they want to pursue a big name, and it’s doubtful that there will be one this year, unless the league is blindsided by a buyout.

Example: There’d be no better time to trade Kessel, 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.

The issue with this is pretty simple. If the main focus is to try to win, trading away your team’s one true superstar talent as he enters prime age is counter-productive. Yes, it’s still possible, as the Leafs’ window of opportunity by age is beginning to open, rather than close, but it’s far too late and Kessel is far too young to trade this late into the rebuild timeline.

As well, "No-Leaf-is-untouchable" doesn’t mean that there is an active pursuit to get rid of every player. It just means that everybody has a price. As it stands, the price on Kessel should be an under-25 forward who produces at his level, or an under-27 forward who produces more. At this point, we’re in the Tavares, Malkin, Stamkos stratosphere, and such a move isn’t going to happen.

Why would Kessel be a smart chip to cash in? He’s a perimeter-hugging winger in a net-front league playing for a team that will need to give up something of value to land its long-sought No. 1 centre. He’ll also be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014, as will team captain Dion Phaneuf.

Calling the NHL a net-front league is a gross over-simplification, but even if it wasn’t completely dynamic, you still need players along the perimeter to feed the net-front players. If that wasn’t true, Joffrey Lupul wouldn’t be playing the best hockey of his career with Kessel, nor would van Riemsdyk.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The "Leafs need a number one centre, so trade Kessel" argument is also a bad one. The primary answer to this? You’re getting rid of that number one centre’s biggest weapon in the process, leaving you chasing a winger that you already had. It becomes a Mats Sundin situation. The secondary answer? If this is a young team that’s willing to take risks for long term success, there’s a 22 year old on the roster who was more effective this year at even strength than Steven Stamkos, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares, Henrik Sedin, Pavel Datsyuk.. okay, Nazem Kadri won’t be the best centre in the league not named Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, or Jonathan Toews next year, but after a stellar full season, and with solid results alongside Kessel in brief experiments, is it not worth seeing if Toronto already has it’s first line centre before making drastic transactions?

Unrestricted free agency is an issue that can be dealt with as the time comes closer. As it stands, we’re talking about 13 months, to a player who is the go-to guy on a team he’s gone on the record as saying he loves playing with. Money will be a concern, but you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s possible to perpetually have your highest paid forward making 5.4 million and still be a star talent. Assuming the cap goes back to $70 million in 14/15, a salary of 6.6 million would take up the same percentage as Kessel did when he signed in 08/09. You know, when his just-completed 60 point season was 23 points ahead of his second best, not 22 behind his best. With $2M in buyouts coming off the books next off-season, it should be no issue at all to bring Kessel into the 7-7.5 Million range.

The latter, a lightning rod of post-season criticism thanks in part to his defensive paralysis in the crucial moments of that Game 7, would be by far the more palatable trade piece in the eyes of many supporters.

First off, Dion Phaneuf is not responsible for the Leafs’ failure, if anything, he’s a crucial part of the Leafs’ success. I don’t think anybody has an individual finger to point for what happened in Game 7, in part because there isn’t one, and in part because the people who blindly criticize players still have PTSD when thinking about Game 7. But that’s not the topic at hand.

But 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.

Was the topic at hand not building championships teams? Suddenly, we’ve gone from "the CEO wants to build a winner" to "it’d be nice to see the Leafs show themselves to be good at asset management".

It’s not the only possible move, mind you, and Nonis has a shopping list that isn’t short. The dominant post-season work of Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask is a reminder the Leafs, who got credible if spotty work from No. 1 James Reimer this season, should be on the lookout for an upgrade between the pipes. Mike Smith is a free agent worth considering. Roberto Luongo will again be discussed. Tim Thomas’s comeback has got to start somewhere.

As we get further and further in, Feschuk’s points begin to get contradictory. He has concern over Kessel having an inevitable pay raise, but suggests that the Leafs should be looking to drop millions in upgrading beyond James Reimer?

As well, it’s hard to agree that these are upgrades at this stage of the game. Smith has one very impressive 2011/12 season under his belt, but in eight seasons, has been above 0.916 just the one time. Reimer has done so in two years of three, the off year being one where he struggled with concussions and still had a better season than many of Smith’s. I felt Luongo was an upgrade going into this year, but after Reimer drastically outplayed him this year, both regular season and playoffs, I’m not so sure I’d want to mess with that lengthy and bulky contract. Lastly, if Tim Thomas is going to come back, and wants to be on an upstart team that just broke into the playoffs and could use goaltending help, he may as well do it with the team that owns his rights.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

If by Bruins-worthy toughness, we mean "Nikolai Kulemin but also punches people", then yes, that’s what David Clarkson is. Yes, he’s scored 30 goals once, but comparing that to Kessel, who’s done that in four straight years (and was easily on pace to do that again this year), is crazy. Without Kessel, Clarkson is still the Leafs’ third or fourth option on the wing, and if he wants 4-5 million as speculated, that’s an obnoxious waste of money. Throw in that Kessel is a significantly more productive playmaker, and comparing the two is impractical.

But Clarkson is expected to command big dollars and the Leafs will have plenty of their own players looking for more, too, among them restricted free agents Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Leo Komarov and Carl Gunnarsson. Toronto centre Tyler Bozak, the best of the Leafs scheduled to hit the unrestricted open market this summer, can make a case he’s in line for a raise that would put him on par with the team’s highest-paid forward, the $5.5 million Mikhail Grabovski, but the Leafs will be looking for him to take a hometown discount. Giving every incumbent a pay bump might not jibe with the reality of a shrinking spending limit and other needs.

Addressed earlier. Clarkson is a sketchy investment of "big dollars", the RFA’s won’t be a major cause for concern, and any GM that pays Bozak close to 5.5 million dollars should probably be fired. Besides, if you’re getting rid of your best player to give your okay players raises, you have a massive problem with organizing your priorities.

Toronto, with a defensive corps that also needs help, needs more high-end talent at low prices, which is why moving up in a deep draft on June 30 would make sense, as would trolling the market to woo compliance buyout cases that could come relatively cheaply.

This is very confusing. Yes, the Leafs need to work on their defensive depth, but the issue there is definitely a short term one. With prospects like Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy, and Jesse Blacker working their way up the chain, and the likes of Jake Gardiner still improving their game, trading up specifically to draft a defenceman is a very illogical move. Signing a short-term minute eater or two on July 1st with leftover money from this year’s RFA re-uppings helps the team more moving forward.

Change, for the Leafs, needs to be in the offing. Falling in love with a team that was a first-round out would be a mistake. The Leafs, by a lot of measures, weren’t a particularly good squad during the 48-game regular season. They were grossly outshot. They only secured their playoff spot a week from the schedule’s conclusion. Still, they made progress.

Ignoring the fact that pretty much the entire league only secured their playoff spots in the final week of the shortened season, I find it funny that the solution to getting grossly outshot is to get rid of the player who is by far the team’s best at getting pucks on net, whether they’re his own or his linemeates. The Leafs definitely weren’t a "good" team over the schedule; I along with many others have stated that they lucked out quite a bit and still have a ways to go before truly being competitive. But Kessel’s season wasn’t about luck. There was no shooting percentage spike, no freakishly unsustainable stats, normal or fancy. Just very, very good hockey from a very, very good player. You don’t fix a lucky team by leaving only the biggest examples and hoping that luck is a disease that they will perpetually rub off on each other. You put the consistent players on a pedestal. That’s not a term that could be used to describe Kessel when he first came here, but over the past two calendar years, he’s become that guy.

“I think what we’ve done is we’ve provided … an identity for our team,” coach Randy Carlyle said during the playoffs. “I think, in some ways, we’ve proven if we work hard, with the skill that we have and the commitment to playing as a team, that we can be competitive.”

Actually, the coach might want to revise that manifesto given the CEO’s latest mission statement. Working hard and being competitive is suddenly not enough. Bizarre, historic first-round choke jobs are presumably also not acceptable. ’Tis the off-season for working harder and assembling champions. Consider the proverbial bar raised along with the expectations of Leafs Nation.

Feschuk finishes the article by playing with the readers emotions again, which as stated before, is an effective practice and probably wins over a lot of people. But in the end, he’s still asking for the Leafs to trade their best, most consistant player for all the wrong reasons. It’s an easy talking point; I get that. It sells papers, and that’s his job; I also get that. It still doesn’t change the fact that almost no point he tried to put across makes any feasible sense for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

At the end of the day, the suggestion can be boiled down to this: The Leafs want to win, so they should trade their one superstar for either a centre who will need someone like him on his wing (instead of trying an already owned option), or a defenceman who will need several years to develop into what the Leafs need. But, this can’t come at a steep cost, because the most appropriate use of the Leafs cap dollars is on players in between star level and replacement level, pretty good but not great. The Leafs need to work hard, and this player was considered to not be a hard worker four years ago. By the way, this is all because of two minutes in a series that he was probably the team’s best player in, despite all the expectation that he wouldn’t.

When you put it that way, it sounds like a bunch of nonsense. Because it is.

Photo from Zimbio.com

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • millzy09

    Dissected the CRAP out of that. Well done!!

    Ha! Loved this comment on The Star website, “Trading Kessel to get a No. 1 centre is like trading all your pants to buy some new shirts.”

  • MaxPower417


    Btw, thank you for using percentage of the cap as a contract measure instead of the raw numbers. I’m constantly making that argument and get blank faces in response even though I’m sure this is how agents and GM’s negotiate.

  • MaxPower417

    Interesting that the author references one of the greatest Leaf leaders in modern history to try to make a point, that player being Mats Sundin. Does everyone remember what the guy who dominated in almost every stat cat cost the Leafs? Here’s a hint: his first name is Wendel… The Leafs will not contend without the acquisition of a legit 1C and having 3 wingers named Joffrey, James and Phil tying up almost 30% of your cap space for the next 5 years while you have nothing resembling a top pivot coming through the ranks means you are content with being a middle of the pack franchise.

    • The same Wendel Clark who had missed at least 15 (as many as 65) games per year for 7 years at that point? The Leafs were also shifting away from a window of opportunity at the time and looking towards being prepared for the next one, something they couldn’t do with Clark.

      By the way, assume in some doomsday scenario the cap stays at 64.3M. Kessel would have to sign for 9.8M (highest in the NHL) to take up 30%. There’s still plenty of money to put into a first line centre if Kadri isn’t that guy (and his production has indicated he has a decent shot of being that guy).

      • Yes, the same Wendel, who never played a full NHL season, who also required regular maintenance days due to the extreme physicality of his game, who also scored 76 points in 66 games the year prior to the trade. The guy who was the centrepiece of the deal that brought Sundin. You can table the argument that playing 66 games the following year suggests he was “breaking down”, but that would be historically inaccurate. He never played a full season. The seasons in that era, as you know, were also 80 games.

        Re: percentages, I am referring to the next couple years. Thanks for correcting the math. Now go check your spelling…

        • Not playing a full season is counter-productive though. Maybe at this point they realized they weren’t going to ever get one out of him again?

          Clark was 6 years older than Sundin, much less healthy, and also less productive. The point that the Leafs were preparing to be ready for their next window of opportunity still stands.

          The cap is poised to only go up over the next few years after this one, so I don’t know how that’s very relevant.

          As for checking my spelling… desperation replies like that generally work better when there are actually spelling errors.

          • Characterizing my reply as desperate would have contextual relevance if there was in fact, evidence of desperation. You were critical of the math. I, in jest, as indicated on your Twitter feed, replied. As of next year, if the Leafs re-upped at 7 million, they would have just under 20 million invested on the wings, and no clear cut 1C anywhere in sight. Almost 20 million of a cap ceiling just over 60 million, is roughly, approximately, ALMOST 30% of what it is NOW. “Now”, being the time the Leafs need to fill that hole if they are going to contend in the next 2 or 3 years. Kadri isnt there, and has yet to prove a 20-21 minute a game workload is in his wheelhouse, so let’s avoid that misnomer.

            I am cool making this public exchange about hockey. Apologies if the spelling reference ruffled your feathers. Do you really think the piece is without spelling/grammatical errors? I’m a writer as well, and I cringe when I see technical errors in my own published work. Nobody’s perfect.

            Wendel played his best hockey prior to the trade and subsequent return. It was clearly enough to catapult him into the upper echelons of legendary Leaf status, as well as landing former first overall Mats Sundin. Still, somehow, despite all this as well as having a career year prior to the deal, you insist on spinning it like he was a shell of his former self. In what pre-cap world does such a player land you a former first overall and future Hall of Famer?

          • millzy09

            I’m actually pretty confused but from what I gather, you’re saying trade Kessel so that the Leafs can pick the next top 10 scorer in the league….oh wait, Kessel is a top 10 scorer in the league. How does it help the Leafs unless they get a pick in return and the second coming of Crosby shows up and that pick somehow translates into drafting him. Alternatively they get an already drafted player and hope he pans out and turns into a top 10 scorer by 24 or 25….oh wait, Kessel did turn into a top 10 scorer by 24. Best case scenario, they go sideways and push everything back 4 years. What’s the point?

          • millzy09

            If mental leapfrog ever becomes an officially sanctioned winter sport I nominate you to Captain Team Obtuse. Catchy name…

            How you jump to the unfortunate conclusion that I suggest trading Kessel for Kessel’s equal is as amusing as it is misguided.

            Clearly, the Leafs have an obvious imbalance in their top 6. They are deep on the wing, and have stumbled and struggled with false start after false start due to the fact that they have a gaping hole down the middle. I submit to you and everyone else that the team is dealing from a position of obvîous strength by parlaying an extremely gifted winger into something they absolutely require to move the needle and reclaim their place as a top NHL team.

            It’s not about point production alone, it’s about depth and quality at all positions. With the depth JvR and Lupul provides, and the likelihood of another winger getting signed (Clarkson or perhaps Stalberg, or maybe even Horton) the Leafs are dealing from a position of strength. While I’m no fan of Feschuk’s, the point about Kessel’s value never being higher is far more reasonable than anything I have read here.

            Nonis has a decision to make: either re-up with a top talent at a position the team has an abundance of talent in for maximum dollars over maximum term, or he can cash in and put his own stamp on the franchise by filling a desperate need that has been glaringly obvious since 2008.

            It’s pretty simple, really.

          • millzy09

            Firstly, great article. Toronto Star writers like Feschuck and Cox just have no sensible opinions and should just be ignored. (Like Nonis listens to that junk.) As for this Owen dude, I think he is making no sense. He seems to be bored with the fact that he has nothing to do and is trolling for fun. His points about Wendel are clearly biased and the points Jeffer (Don’t know the exact spelling) makes clearly win over Owen’s points. In my opinion, Kessel should end his career as a Leaf player. I think the value he brings is substantial. He is a clutch player and has scored consecutive 20 goal seasons. He will always be in the top 10 in my opinion and will not get traded. Great article, once again.

          • millzy09

            Here’s how bored I am: I travel the world doing what I love. This week, I trained with a kung fu instructor on the beach in West Africa. Then I purchased a number of hand made custom jewellery pieces that I designed. Then, I went shopping for art. I bought nine different original oil paintings and a hand carved solid ebony statue. And, I wrote a blog for another Leafs website. Next week, I take my band to Senegal to perform at a resort for three weeks. After that, it’s either a trip to Morocco where I played last year with David Gilmour’s keyboardist, or a contract in Nigeria, before I come home to hang with my kids in Muskoka all summer. Yup, I’m bored…

            Jeffler’s points about Wendel are, in my opinion, inaccurate. He never played full seasons, from the beginning of his career to the very end. He scored 76 points in 66 games before he was traded. There’s just no way to soin that as “broken down”. I was married and divorced by that time. I saw it first-hand. Jeffler was likely still riding a school bus miming to Backstreet Boys records with his grade school chums. Broken down injury-ridden players dont fetch you cornerstone pieces who go on to smash every team record in existence. Sorry…

            Bottom line is you dont pay for Porsches with peanut brittle. If the Leafs want to be contenders, they need a top centre, and that isnt a guy they can draft and groom over the next five years. Pro hockey is cyclical in nature. Teams rise and fall in terms of readiness based on the GM’s ability to engineer a well balanced, competitive and battle-hardened group. L.A. didn’t win last year because they were the most talented team in the league; they won because they were the team most ready to do so from the standpoint of mental preparation, health, chemistry, coaching, and overall positional depth and balance. That, and they had a ridiculously hot goalie. Toronto is maybe two years out of being ready, if they can fill the one-hole with a bonafide centreman. You’d have to be a complete homer to avoid looking at the obvious opportunity the Leafs have in looking at cashing in on Kessel’s value.

          • millzy09

            I was first team all universe in underwater basket weaving this year. Now that you know what I’ve been up to I’ll get to the point. My response wasn’t me jumping to any conclusions, it was conveying the fact that whatever ideal outcome you’re thinking will come of trading Kessel is not necessarily what will happen. The fact of the matter is that Kessel has proven to be an elite talent. It’s not rocket science to determine that the return for Kessel right now would be at its highest point. Unfortunately the NHL isn’t the stock market and making net profit on players means **** all if you don’t win games. Kessel gives them an opportunity to win sooner than trading him for picks or prospects. A proven player at any position is better than an unproven one unless you’re splitting at the seams with depth and have a direct replacement. JVR and Lupul are great, but are not at Kessel’s level. All round game, Kessel may not be the best, but he scores goals and that is one of the hardest things to do in the NHL. His two-way game has improved significantly as well. The bottom line is, you’re not getting Crosby, Stamkos, Datsyuk, Malkin or Toews for Kessel. These would be the only additions that would improve the Leafs at the expense of their best player. At best you’re going laterally and there is no point in that. Just because you get a good centre doesn’t mean you’re automatically a better team. Getting an elite centre, which the Leafs won’t…that’s a different story.

          • millzy09

            I have to wonder if your underwater activities have led to oxygen deprivation… your ability to comprehend seems a tad compromised. You now seem to think I want to trade Kessel for picks and prospects. Not even close… and calling your top 10 scoring winger an elite untrade-able asset is ludicrous when you have such obvious needs elsewhere. You make a good point about winning games, but counting on your elite shoot first top scoring winger to win you games is a flawed strategy. And that is because with this current blueprint, you dont have the type of personnel on hand to give you enough puck possession to dictate the game’s outcome. Youre relying on one or two players to outscore your deficiencies. Every advanced stats guy said the Leaf’s negative puck possession problem was going to catch up to them, and they wouldnt be able to maintain success indefinitely. Lo and behold, it was their ultimate undoing against a desperate, and far more skilled Boston club. Kessel did his job well. It simply wasn’t enough. And that is because the team has no depth down the middle that can provide an answer when it matters most. I dread the thought of the Leafs paying Kessel 7-8 million for the next 6 years only to fail to give him the big bodied, rugged top pivot the team needs to maximize/justify such an investment. If they go that route, dollars to donuts the fans, the media and more than just a smattering of bloggers will be holding Nonis’ feet to the fire for failing to take advantage of a golden opportunity to leverage the assets he had at his disposal. Who knows what options are out there…maybe there are none that make sense. In that case, they have little choice but to hold on to Kessel. In hindsight, Lupul and Gardiner for Beauchemin makes even less sense than Lebda for Franson and Lombardi. Kessel, to a team in need of a restructuring, may very well yield you an elite level centreman. Crazier deals than this happen all the time. My final thought on this whole subject: when you deal in absolutes such as the one contained in the author’s title of choice, your entire premise is flawed. Closing the door on an open ended statement which asks: “can we deal effectively from a position of strength in order to secure a cornerstone piece in the one-hole”, is sillier than anything Feschuk suggests, no matter how methodically you go about dissecting his article. Kessel is a fantastic complimentary piece, but he aint the cornerstone. If he can land you that big fish, it may be time to cut bait. It worked years ago, when a guy named Wendel, who was considered to be at the top of his game despite what Jeffy here would like to have you believe, landed the Leafs Mats Sundin. Thats quite a haul…

          • millzy09

            First, thanks for telling me about your shallow life story. Half of that seems made up. I don’t believe it. As for @millzy09, that person seems to grasp real intelligence as all her points overwrite yours. As for yours, think of something new. And don’t include the same garbage points of Gilmour and your fake lifestyle. I find that Kessel is the valuable piece, get another centre through another trade.

          • millzy09

            Fake lifestyle…got it. I’d love to stay and match (half) wits with you, but its 33 degrees, the sun is shining, and I have a kung fu class. On the beach. In Africa.


          • millzy09

            Hello Owen,

            Here I am, in Paris sitting on the top of the Eiffel Tower sipping a cup of tea while looking down at the beautiful sights. I was just in Dubai a few days ago eating Kabobs. Now, I have to go to a croissant making class and later to one of the hippest clubs in Italy where I will be partying with some of the best DJ’s in the game like Skrillex and Tiesto. Well, tata! I have to get packing…

          • millzy09

            Dubai…great place lived there for 6 years. The Burj Al Arab is sorta quaint and cozy, wouldnt you say? Performed there in 1999. The rooms are quite beautiful. Two storey suites with a butler. Did you go wadi bashing in the desert? great fun, huh? How lucky of you to make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. When I was there, the lineup was 2 hours long, so I took a taxi to the Louvre instead. Surprised at how small the Mona Lisa actually was. The Michaelangelo display was pretty incredible. We should trade photos, I’d love to see your collection. What’s your email?

          • millzy09

            Sorry, Owen. I’m here having enchiladas in Spain. I just wanted to say that I can’t share my Michaelangelo pictures with you because I find him overrated. He is a very bad artist. I find myself intrigued by many other greats like Lichtenstein and Warhol. I actually bought a painting once for $11,000. Anyways, you got a taxi to the Louvre. I actually rented out a Limo for my exquisite trip to Paris. I also lived in Dubai for 3 years. That is no joke. I’m sorry, I haven’t actually visited the Burj Al Arab but I did visit the Palm Jumerai and let me tell you, you should check that place out. Anyways, I’m here on my trip to Guatemala and just wanted to say, the deals you refer to such as the Gretzky and the Carter, I actually do agree with them. Strange. Anyways, My ship has arrived to pick me up for my trip to Costa Rica. Tata!

          • millzy09

            You lived there for three years and you cant spell Jumeirah? Hmmm….Which place on the Palm do you mean? It’s pretty big, with a number of hotels. It was still under construction last time I was there. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to rival the world’s only 7-star… where in Spain? Barcelona? Probably my favourite…La Ramblas street artists, the Sagrada Famillia, the Columbus Monument, and all that fabulous Gaudi architecture …didnt find a lot of Mexican dishes like enchiladas there. We generally stuck to Paella, or simple finger foods, and drank copious amounts of sangria. Oooh, South America – I’m envious. Never been! What ship? I spent 6 months with the house band aboard the Independence of the Seas…Europe tour, 2010. Good times. Steak on a stone in Madeira, Cathedral tours in Cadiz, freshly pulled pints of Guinness in Cobh…really miss it. Aside from crew drills, that is…but we had 3 stripe officer privileges. That means free coffee and donuts, and you get to ride the guest elevators. Enjoy Costa Rica! We really should trade pictures!

            And thanks for at least mentioning hockey in your last response.

          • jasken

            In all honesty, I actually did live in Dubai for three years. One in the Palm Jumeirah and two close to the Abu Dhabi area. I do apologize for the spelling mistake. The internet browser I was using in Spain had some sort of bad auto correct. Anyways, to answer your question about Spain, I have been visiting Madrid’s great Ensanche area. I then travelled to Valencia where I found multicultural restaurant and enjoyed some enchiladas. I didn’t find the foreign drink tasty and just stuck to regular 7Up. I actually travelled on a Quantum Class Ship with the finest servers and atmosphere. I will post some pictures of my trip to Costa if you like. Now, hold on. My private jet is landing in New Zealand. I have booked a lesson with a horse rider and then have the privilege to visit The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Anyways, the plane is landing. Can’t let my entourage wait. Peace Out. I’ll comment before my visit to Wales in a couple of days. Au Revoir! Oh by the way… Scrivens isn’t getting traded. No time soon. The same BS was said to Reimer and see how well he played. Yeah. There is no chance Scrivens is leaving unless it is one hell of a deal. Maybe like this one which will never happen. Leafs Trade: Scrivens, Kessel to Bruins: for Seguin and Rask. Like I said. Out of the Realm of possibility. My chariot awaits! Bye Owen!

          • jasken

            You’ve officially become boring. The Abu Dhabi “area”. It’s an Emirate on it’s own. Thats like saying I lived in Ontario next to the Quebec area. Safe travels…

          • jasken

            What do you mean boring? Are my responses making you jealous about my sweet and rich lifestyle? Anyways, about your “Abu Dhabi area” BS. Really. Really? Abu Dhabi and Dubai are located in the same country. THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. Thus, you could say that I lived in the Abu Dhabi area. You want me to be specific fine: I was living in the Al Nahyan neighbourhood. Gosh. People these days. Trying to pry into your personal life because of a small grammar technicality. Anyways, I would like to thank you for your regards for my safe travels. My trip to Wales has been delayed because I decided to stop for a great feast at the Larnach Castle. It was great touring the great places there. Anyways, how is your trip? Which ocean have you crossed? I’m gonna go take a shower now as this flight is getting boring. Peace out! Oh BTW, you didn’t reply about the hockey this time…

          • millzy09

            I never once indicated that Kessel is untouchable. For the right centre, there would be no denying he’s worth moving, or at least entertaining the idea. Unfortunately I can only count those centres on both hands and they aren’t being moved anytime soon. So as leaferfan said, what are you planning to get in return if it isn’t picks and prospects because you certainly aren’t getting a worthy, proven 1C. I enjoy discussing and even arguing about this stuff and I respect everyone’s opinion, however, I have a hard time respecting you because all of your entries start with some sort of personal shot at everyone you’re replying to. If you were any kind of writer you would be able to extend your position with a little tact.

          • millzy09

            You preface your response to me with a sarcastic remark. I rebutted. I’m a bad, bad person. Fair enough. If you want to talk hockey, talk hockey. “Tubby” made an off-handed assumption about my purpose for challenging Jeff’s opinion. He quite mistakenly characterized my motives as being out of boredom. Again, I rebutted. I’m just a really bad person, it seems…I guess that makes me a bad writer as well… you can form your own opinion by searching my articles online. I won’t post links here, because that would make me a really, really bad person.

            You can assume what you like about what other teams may be willing to move in order to restructure their clubs going forward. I’m not so sure about that. Nobody could have seen the Jeff Carter/Mike Richards deals, or the deal that sent Thornton to San Jose, or Phaneuf to Toronto, or Brad Richards to Dallas, or Wendel to Quebec. Who would have thought a really good goalie like Luongo would ever be a buyout candidate? Before the emergence of these new economic criteria, it would have never been considered remotely feasible. If you want to deal in absolutes, like assuming there will be no discussion between Nonis and teams looking to move 1C calibre talent, go ahead. History would indicate that you’d be making a mistake, most likely. Comound this with the notion the Tim Leiweke apparently has every intention of engineering a winning franchise, and I think you, me, and a few other people might be surprised…

          • millzy09

            Here is a list of the top Centers that performed better than Kadri

            E. Staal

            Pretty Elite bunch

            What do they all have in common (Other than Ribero) They were all drafted by the same team that they play for. In fact if we expand to the top-20 centers this year only Ribero,Joe Thornton, Tlusty, and Hodgson were drafted by a team other than their current one.

            Why am I making this point? Well, it simple, teams with elite centers do not part with them easily. Kessel will not net us a better center than what we already have unless we package him in a deal that significantly hurts our depth.

            This would be silly especially since we have a center who seems to be developing quite well in Kadri (He is also the youngest Center on that list) who should be given a chance to prove his worth with wingers like Kessel, JVR and Lupul in an expanded role.

            Kessel’s value has never been higher, this is true. However, since Kessel is only 25 Years old and has remained consistent or gotten better every year he has been with the Leafs and there is no reason to think he will not continue his consistent play, chances are that his value will be higher in a year or two. Especially if Kadri can build on what he has done this year.

            While Toronto could use some help in the faceoff dot, they were hardly the weak point of the team (50%, 15th in the league). The biggest holes were in Toronto’s defence, who allowed far too many shots to get to their goalies, but I don’t believe we should start trading assets to upgrade there either.

            The problem there was due to inexperience in our core and what I saw this year was a lot of players on the D-side learning how to play at the NHL level and many took major strides this past season. Toronto should stay conservative this year and not make too many big splashes in the offseason.

            … but hey, If Crosby, Malkin, Toews or Stamkos are available why not? Anyone else, probably not worth it.

          • millzy09

            When comparisons over a 48 game schedule become a realistic measuring stick, you may be on to something.

            Here’s another list:
            Kopitar, Duchene, Couture, Skinner, RNH, Giroux, Oshie, Henrique. Kadri apparently outperformed them all. Which of these do you prefer Kadri over, long-term?

            My point: your criteria in determining value is flawed. You are also defining the boundaries of this exchange based on a weak premise, then demanding I select a name or two i think Kessel can be traded for. That’s not how this works.

            Secondly, you omitted Brad Richards from that list of centres currently not playing for his original team. Maybe that was deliberate; who knows…

            Finally, I’m not saying “find a trade for Kessel at all costs”. That would be stupid. I’m saying “don’t deal in absolutes”. That is what the author has done. If you take an attitude of “under no circumstances do we trade Kessel”, because he’s a really good winger, you are absolutely dealing in absolutes. If a team in need of economic re-structuring, with a surplus of high-end centremen make overtures for Phil Kessel, I say you listen, instead of banging that same old drum about how under-appreciated he is, or how big a hole he leaves by departing. Of course he leaves a hole. Is it a bigger hole than the one down the middle? With Lupul and JvR locked up long term, I dont think so. This week, it was reported that PHI was open to moving Brayden Schenn, and/or Couturier because they have adequate depth there, and they need to restructure their back end, in the absence of Pronger. Are either 1C’s as of today? nope. Are either less likely than Kadri to get there? I doubt that very much. Before you make the unfortunate assumption that I am suggesting Kessel for either /or Schenn and Couturier, I am simply illuminating the obvious: the dynamics of the NHL’s economics are shifting like the tectonic plates in the South Pacific, and as a result, teams across the league are looking at their cap commitments in ways they have never had to in previous years. You cannot absolutely claim the only way to land a 1C is to draft and groom him. If that’s the case, you blow it up today, for as many top picks and prospects as you can garner, and start again, because for all your analysis regarding team weakness at D, you ignore the fact that negative puck possession is a function of an inability to control flow of play. That’s why your D needs to step up, and why your goalie routinely faces 40 shots or more while your shifty snipers struggle to land half as many on the opposition’s goalie. The problem isnt D, it isnt Reimer, and it isn’t those wingers. You see, centremen actually do more than win faceoffs. They also create puck possession. Positive puck possession, especially in the neutral and attacking zones, means your shooters dont need to try and sustain ridiculous percentages, and your D dont have to lead the league in blocked shots, and Reimer doesn’t need to be Brodeur.

            It’s not hard to understand, unless youre absolutely committed to “absolutes”.

          • millzy09

            I omitted Brad Richards because he was not among the top-20 in most categories this year (19th in Assists was the only major category where he charted). Brad was also NOT a trade, but a signing where the NYR gave up absolutely nothing in assets for him.

            As for the 48 game sample size, you are right, its not enough to say he will be a good 1C, but it is enough to allow him to have a chance at it.

            As for Centermen doing more than just winning faceoffs, yes I am aware, I played Center/RW growing up and I understand the role well. Toronto is young and developing and trading a 25-year-old elite forward for a 1C is still stupid. There just aren’t any really available who would be equal value to Kessel, and furthermore, breaking up a young developing team that out-performed all expectations is chronically stupid.

  • millzy09

    Firstly, great article. Toronto Star writers like Feschuck and Cox just have no sensible opinions and should just be ignored. (Like Nonis listens to that junk.) As for this Owen dude, I think he is making no sense. He seems to be bored with the fact that he has nothing to do and is trolling for fun. His points about Wendel are clearly biased and the points Jeffer (Don’t know the exact spelling) makes clearly win over Owen’s points. In my opinion, Kessel should end his career as a Leaf player. I think the value he brings is substantial. He is a clutch player and has scored consecutive 20 goal seasons. He will always be in the top 10 in my opinion and will not get traded. Great article, once again.

  • millzy09

    I just want to point out that, even though it was sad to see wendel go for sundin, it was a smart trade that saw toronto benefit long term. We also got wendel a couple years later. So we gained a huge piece for a huge piece but then got our given up, huge piece back.

  • millzy09

    Great job refuting every point Feschuk made. Don’t understand why so many people are screaming for a Kessel trade when he’s exactly what we’ve all been looking for since Sundin left. A top 10 scorer, and he’s doing it all WITHOUT the top line center we’re drooling over. Say what you will about Bozak but if we have him in game seven to take even one or two of those draws in our zone late, things could have been different. If we see even some progress in our player’s next season, (mostly Kadri, and a healthy, affordable Bozak) my blue and white glasses tell me we have a chance to make some more noise next spring. And as you and other posters here have said, why make a blockbuster, lateral move? We won’t win the trade and is gonna do more damage than good. 9 times out of ten we’re gonna end up with Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, who, while serviceable, are not likely turn out to be Kessel combined at this point.

  • millzy09

    I don’t know if the leafs should trade Kessel or not. I do however remember something Pat Gillick once said while with the Jays, you never want to fall in love with your players. Every GM should consider trading any player IF the trade will make his team better. If the Leafs were to sign David Clarkson and some team offers them a young first line centre for Kessel, should they not make the trade?

  • millzy09

    Question: What combination of player, picks and prospects would you trade Kessel for?

    The reality is that getting sufficient value for Kessel is unlikely in that teams won’t give up those kind of players. This idea of trading Kessel is as ridiculous as those wanting to fire Carlyle. It sound good in theory and will get people riled up either way but both are absurdly unlikely.

    • millzy09

      There’s a city in Western Canada called Edmonton, where this really great hockey player named Wayne once played. He was something special, and the entire city loved him. He won scoring titles and Stanley Cups, and everyone was really happy and proud of their team. One day, he found out that he was getting traded. Nobody could believe it. But it happened, even though it was “absurdly unlikely”.

      • millzy09

        There is another city in Western Canada called Calgary, where this other great player named Dougie or ‘Killer’ played. He was traded for a winger. It did not pan out well. Now teams are a bit wary of trading centermen.

        There is this other place, its called the past, you seem to be living there. In what we now refer to as the present, we have a completely different economic system in the NHL, which does not allow teams to trade players the way that LA got Wayne from Edmonton. Economic ‘Realities’ don’t really make as much of a difference as they did in 1988 (25 Years ago, like 1/4 century ago, as in ‘Not really relevant anymore’, as in ‘League structure and business practices have changed since then’, etc, etc) when ALL teams need to make a minimum Salary cap.

        I’m not saying that a great 1C could not be traded for, I’m just saying that it is rare and usually doesn’t work out for the team that went after him. You will rarely get good value trading wingers for centermen.

        • millzy09

          The obvious parallel between the past and the present, is that economics suddenly come into play in a new and interesting way due to the cap compliance amnesty policy. It’s like temporarily having no cap at all for the rich, who can buy other teams’ problems, if the return warrants as much. let’s pretend for a moment Wang is planning to sell his franchise, which is committed to paying DiPietro tens of millions until 2021. The buyout doesnt help him take that off those books that a potential new owner would obviously be privy to. Trading him certainly does. If youre a team as desperate for a 1C as Wang is to get DP out of his life, I think you stroke the cheque, and bay him his 1.5 million a year until the apocalypse.

          Now, the question: what does Phil Kessel, plus the assuming of the DP contract valued at 24 million based on 66% of its value actually get you?

          • millzy09

            Probably would not get you Tavares, not without prospects, picks or another major piece.

            The point is moot, because Charlie Wang is not selling the Islanders (especially since they have a new lease structure in brooklyn and the Isles are finally looking like a team on the rise, not unlike the Leafs). If we are going to deal with ‘what-ifs’ we might as well wonder ‘what if Mario Lemieux decided to blow up the penguins and trade Malkin and/or Crosby’ because I would definitely support a Crosby/Malkin for Kessel+Assets, but it isn’t going to happen.

            The only real option for that scenario is Phoenix so the question becomes which of Phoenix’s top centermen would you trade for Kessel?

            Hanzal? Vermette? Lombardi?

            Honestly if Nonis made any one of those trades he should be fired immediately.

          • millzy09

            I am not completely against the idea of trading Kessel in the future, but now is not the time. The team performed well and Kessel was a main contributer in the regular season and the playoffs and Kadri had a breakout year, Colbourne may have earned a second look and Grabo, Bozak(if we keep him) and McClement round out our bottom half reasonably well.

            If Toronto trades Kessel, it should be next year at the deadline or during the offseason next year, and only if the Leafs take a major step backwards in development and only if we can get similar or better value for him than what we paid for him.

            While a winger may not command a 1C position a goalie would. The Leafs have several goalie prospects right now that could be traded later if we allow them to develop. Rynnas, Sparks and Owuya are young and developing nicely and could make either Scrivens or (god forbid) Reimer expendable in a year or two. It would take a lot of luck and exemplary play by our goalies, but its another place where Toronto has potential depth, but in a position that is just as hard to fill as a 1C.

            Effectively, there are no trades on the horizon that would benefit the Leafs for Kessel right now. With such a young team, patience with what we have is more important than going out and trading our top players.

  • millzy09

    While I do agree there is a high amount of uncertainty, especially with the changes in financial structure, none of the trades you mentioned involved the teams best player going the other way (perhaps some argument for Clark). They were all big surprises – which I agree, shows the unthinkable is possible. However, none included a Kessel which makes a possible deal that you’re talking about, much more unlikely.

    Additionally, some of the reason Gretzky got traded was because Pocklington was going broke, hence the 15m added to pot by LA. It’s hardly a good argument.

    If they can shock the hockey world and obtain the services of a top tier, elite centerman, Nonis is a genius and I’d be happy to listen. I’d like to add that you do make some strong points and you bring forth an argument with some weight, but I just disagree with your optimism. I don’t mind having a well presented argument – I’m having fun with this.

    • millzy09

      So, if The Great One can be moved due to (other) financial constraints, it is a very plausible assumption that current teams with their own economic problems may have little choice but to move a centreman (if they happen to be well stocked in that area), for a game-breaking winger. We can both postulate as to who those “available” 1C options might be, but the level of intel we share is probably minimal. Im no “insider”, but I won’t speak for you. What is being discussed at top levels between the NHL’s general managers is anyone’s guess. I love Phil Kessel as a player, but if the opportunity to land that cornerstone piece comes available due to cap rollback/shrinking gate receipts/ownership changes, etc. , you have to look long and hard at that before committing a major portion of your cap for the next six years. It’s due diligence. For the author to suggest the notion has no merit reeks of homerism in my opinion. He’s entitled to share that opinion with his readers, obviously; and some would choose to agree. I don’t think summarily dismissing the idea without knowing what the return is indicates any semblance of critical analysis, and a point by point dissection of Feschuk’s piece does precious little to refute the idea. No disrespect to the author, or his “followers”. It just sounds like fan-boy babble to me…

  • millzy09

    The problems with trading Kessel next year at the deadline are as follows:
    1. It’s the deadline. Most mistakes are made at that time.
    2. His NMC kicks in, and he has absolute last word on the issue. He could easily decide to dig his heels in, play out his contract and go where the most money/chance of immediate success is. That leaves Nonis with sweet eff all. After the controversy surrounding Kessel, why would he take that unnecessary risk?
    3. The badgering he will receive all year, if unsigned, will make the harassment Sundin and Kaberle were treated to seem like an exchange of pleasantries. Do you want that distraction hanging over the team’s heads all season? Youre talking about building cohesiveness but youre OK with that elephant in the dressing room all year? rally?

    Regarding goaltending, I don’t agree. If Rynnas, who I believe is heading back to Europe, was a serious threat, why did 27 year old Drew McIntyre just receive a new deal? Obviously, by doing this, Nonis must think that either he, Sparks or Owuya isn’t going to pan out, or conversely, Scrivens is getting traded sooner than later. Unless one or two are loaned indefinitely to an unaffiliated franchise.

    The thing is, team success is cyclical. Managing that cycle is complicated. Phaneuf, Lupul and Reimer are all effective assets today. Will they be as effective in three years when you propose the leafs attempt to trade a goalie for a centre? How many years after that until they are playoff contenders? Will a 34-35 year old Lupul still be a top line forward? I’m trying to think of how many times I can recall a goalie fetching a top centre. Can you help me out?

  • jasken

    No offence but this is a stupid topic!! First trading Kessel and grabbing a 1 center what exactly does that accomplish nothing, I hear all this garbage well we dont have a 1C so what. An elite center dont guarantee anything look at 2012 I am sure those teams with their elite centers and power forwards were impressed watching the playoffs. It dont matter what great player you have if they cant play and work together as a “team” whether you have a 100 point center or a 50 point center your still not competing. The reason is that is 1 player there are 23 others that play anyone who says that 1 player costs games needs to go back and learn a bit more about team sports. Kessel is 1 player he could be traded for a nice package for other minor key players or another core but why would you risk a core player of the team for minor players or a core player. Chancy substitute for an already guarantee success sounds like a bonehead move to me.