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…
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.
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.