Hockey, Sports

The Phil Kessel Trade

I never believed the Leafs would get the return for Kessel that the Bruins got for him from the Maple Leafs. But I hoped it would be something.

When the Leafs traded for Kessel, I was upset. I was upset for the following reasons. On the side of what the Leafs gave up:

  • It was very likely that the 1st round pick the Leafs were giving up would be Top 5 or higher, even with Kessel in the lineup – it was obvious to everyone except the Leafs’ front office;
  • It was equally obvious that, unless major changes miraculously occurred, the second 1st round pick would be Top 15 at worst, and more likely Top 10 or even Top 5;
  • Finally, they decided to give up a third asset in addition, inconsequential as it may be.

Kessel was, of course, drafted 5th overall meaning that, by draft position alone, the Leafs were trading a Top 5 pick and a Top 10 or Top 15 pick, plus another pick, for a Top 5 pick. (Obviously they knew more about Kessel at the time than “Top 5 pick.”)

So, in essence, the Leafs were giving away the chance to get two players each as theoretically good or better as Kessel plus another asset in order get Kessel.

And I had concerns about Kessel as well:

  • First, he had been drafted as a centre but had been switched to the wing. This has happened literally numerous times in NHL history, but the history of “franchise” players being drafted as amateur centres or D and then converted to the wing was not entirely auspicious (cough Wendel Clark cough). There have been exceptions, but normally this signifies that the player does not possess all the skills the drafting team believed he had.
  • The second was that Kessel had just scored 36 goals, but he had done so on the wing of Marc Savard who, if you’ll remember, was, at the time, the second best pure passer in the NHL after Joe Thornton.

But I was wrong about Kessel.

(I maintain I was not wrong about the trade. Anyone who thinks the Leafs “won” this deal because the Bruins are idiots and traded away both franchise players they drafted is not only-rewriting history but is also delusional. Burke couldn’t have known that at the time, nor could the Bruins have known they would win the Cup after the trade, without Kessel. That’s called the historian’s fallacy, folks. Do not rewrite history.)

Kessel is one of the best few players in his draft class, as he is

  • 1st in goals,
  • 5th in assists,
  • 2nd in points.

But more importantly, Kessel is tied for 1st in goals, 19th in assists and 9th in points over the last five seasons. Also, he is 5th in GPG of all players to play in at least 350 games in the last five seasons, and 12th in APG and 8th in PPG for those same qualifiers. Despite his down year, you could argue he is one of the Top 10 offensive players in the league and that’s while playing with Tyler “3rd Line Centre” Bozak as his centreman. Kessel is really, really good, despite what Toronto media will tell you.

And so this is all to say that, though I don’t think the Leafs should have gotten back two franchise players and another asset, I would have liked more than what they got in this deal:

Pittsburgh Penguins get:

  • Tyler Biggs
  • Tim Erixon
  • Phil Kessel (at a cheaper annual cap hit/salary)
  • 2016 2nd Rounder

Toronto Maple Leafs get:

  • Scott Harrington
  • Kasperi Kapanen
  • Nick Spaling
  • 2016 1st Rounder
  • 2016 3rd Rounder

Now, obviously the Leafs got something, and we do not know enough about what they got to really say, at this moment in time, how they have managed to replace him. But here are my problems:

  • The Leafs gave up four assets to get five back. On its surface, that’s great. I love most trades where the Leafs get more assets back than they give up, even if the best player is going the other way. However, this is not most trades. Kessel is hands down the best player in the trade and it’s unlikely anyone/anything in the return will ever equal Kessel but they gave up three additional assets with Kessel, along with retaining some of his salary for the remainder of the contract to make this go through. Retaining salary and trading two additional players and a pick seems extreme, to put it mildly. The Leafs could have easily kept Kessel this season – till the trade deadline at the very least – and seen his value go up (or not, obviously) and not had to make such concessions. As numerous people have written, that’s what makes this seem like a culture change / message to the team as much as anything. But that doesn’t make it a reasonable move.
  • Of those assets:
    • Tyler Biggs has, so far, been an unmitigated disaster for his draft position (22nd), managing 15 points in 108 AHL games. (That is just terrible.) So good riddance to bad rubbish.
    • But Erixon is a serviceable 7th D, and represents an actual (albeit very minor) asset to be given up with Kessel.
    • As is the 2nd round pick.
    • This is to say that, though we can pretty much eliminate Biggs from the deal as anything valuable, Erixon and the 2nd round pick have some, minimal value, so, again, the retaining salary thing is confusing.
  • Harrington is a 7B prospect according to Hockey’s Future; what that means is that he has a reasonable chance of becoming a Top 4 D in the NHL.
  • Kapanen, the “prize” in the deal – and, according to sources I trust, officially the Leafs’ 3rd best prospect as of right now – is a 7.5C prospect; what that means is that he has an okay chance of becoming a Top 3-6 forward, but he may have trouble adapting.
  • Spaling is a 4th liner who currently makes too much money.
  • The 2016 first round pick is super protected, meaning it will likely never result in a player of Kessel’s calibre, or even something remotely close – it will eventually drop to a second rounder if the Penguins don’t suck in the next 2 years, so essentially that’s what it is.
  • The third round pick is not much but, one hopes with the Leafs supposedly improved scouting, might end up being somewhat of an asset.
  • To sum up:
    • Penguins Get:
      • 1 Top 2 or 3 forward just past his prime (maybe), signed at an incredibly reasonable price for much of the next decade
      • 1 7th D
      • 1 minor league bottom 6 forward
      • 1 2nd round pick
    • Leafs Get:
      • 1 player who might, just might, become a Top 3 forward in the NHL, if they’re lucky, but is likely, at best, a Top 6
      • 1 potential Top 4 D
      • 1 overpaid 4th liner
      • 1 super protected 1st round pick that will likely turn into a 2nd round pick.
      • 1 2nd round pick

How could us fans support this?

2018 Update

As of September 2018, the original Kessel trade is now:

Boston Bruins Got:

  • 3 seasons of Tyler Seguin, then
    • 3 seasons of Loui Eriksson (left as a free agent)
    • 2 seasons of Reilly Smith, then
      • 2 seasons of Jimmy Hayes, whom they released
    • Season and a quarter of Matt Fraser, whom they released
    • Joe Morrow, who never played an NHL game
    • (Note: Boston gave up Peverley and someone named Ryan Button along with Seguin, for some crazy reason.)
  • 3 seasons of Dougie Hamilton, then
    • Zachary Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacks-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon, none of whom have played a game in the NHL
  • Jared Knight, who never played a game in the NHL
  • 1 Stanley Cup (Note: Seguin was a substitute on this team and Hamilton didn’t play)
  • 1 other Stanley Cup final appearance (Note: Seguin was played as a Top 9 forward and Hamilton was a substitute)
  • 5 other playoff appearances, including three trips to the second round.

Toronto Maple Leafs Got:

  • 6 seasons of Phil Kessel who was, it should be noted, the best player on the Maple Leafs for most if not all of those six seasons, then
    • James Greenway, who has yet to play a game in the NHL
    • 15 NHL games of Scott Harrington, then
      • Kerby Rychel, who played in the minors until he was packaged with other assets in the Plekanec trade
    • Kasperi Kapanen: 8G, 2A for 10P, -6 in 55 games; 11:45 ATOI but he just turned 22
    • 35 games of Nick Spaling, who was then added into the Polak deadline deal in 2016, which brought back Raffi Torres and
      • a 2nd round pick which was half of the trade for Freddie Andersen
    • Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick , which became the other half of the trade for Andersen: 71-37-19, 9 SO, 2.74 GAA, .918 SV% to date
  • 1 first round playoff collapse.

Despite how bad a trade it was initially, there are those who want to rewrite history and claim that the Maple Leafs won this deal. How can they say that?

The Bruins got two first line/first pair players, whom they stupidly traded away for cents on the dollar, a Stanley Cup and a chance at another one.

The Leafs got a franchise player who was never good enough to be that franchise player (according the media) and never supported enough, some spare parts, maybe a third/second liner and a starting goalie who nobody is yet sure is good enough to contend for a Cup.

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