On September 18th, 2009, I was listening to the radio while in the car and that’s when I heard Leafs general manager at the time, Brian Burke, had announced a trade that had the Leafs nation and myself buzzing. The Leafs acquired Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins in exchange a 1st round pick and 2nd round pick in 2010, as well as another 1st round pick in 2011. Steep price but hey, who cares right? We got a “potential” 40 goal scorer who just came off a 36 goal season. I thought, “Hey, we got ourselves a player. Get the man a true #1 Centre and we’re golden”. Like some people, with the acquisition of Kessel, I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting the Leafs to be a bad team. Matter of fact, I thought they would make the playoffs (Silly me).
Fast forward to draft day 2010, the “Taylor vs Tyler” buzz was real. Two very good prospects that everyone knew would translate into solid NHL players. Better yet, they are now elite players in their respective positions. That’s good, right? We didn’t do so well that year and got the 2nd overall pick! Pump the breaks. Remember that trade we made with Boston? Yeah we traded THAT first round pick. We were left with no top pick as Boston selected Tyler Seguin and our first selection was in the 2nd round where we chose Brad Ross (Remember him?). But who cares, right? He’s still young and we have Phil Kessel. Turns out that wasn’t quite the case. Seguin went on to have a decent rookie season and contributed to a Bruins Stanley Cup.
It doesn’t stop there. Although we were slightly better the following season, we still didn’t have a first round pick in 2011 and with the 9th overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Bruins selected Dougie Hamilton. At this point, in his first two seasons with the team, Kessel put up 62 goals and 57 assists for 119 points in 152 games. Which isn’t too bad given the state of the team at the time but when you compare it to Boston winning the cup with Seguin and then drafted a future top pairing defenseman, it was bad.
Throughout his time in Toronto, like Dion Phaneuf, Kessel put up with crap from fans and the media. Whether it was during a goal-scoring drought, admitting to not going through much conditioning during the summer, getting criticized for standing up for his captain, etc. He put up with quite a bit during his time in Leaf Land.
But maybe the Kessel trade wasn’t so bad after all? On July of 2013, the Bruins announced that they traded Seguin to the Dallas Stars. By far the biggest piece of the deal gets traded shortly after coming close to a second Stanley cup ring. On to the other major part of the deal, June 26th 2015, the Bruins announced they traded Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames.
So it doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Both picks we traded for “Phil the thrill” ended up getting traded again. Leafs win, right? To a certain extent I suppose so, although both players to this day are well on their way to hit their respective ceilings.
But hey, let’s stay away from those two for now since you guys are probably sick of hearing about their success. Let’s look at one good came with Phil Kessel. In 6 seasons with the Leafs, Kessel put up 181 goals, 213 assists for 394 points in 446 games while mostly playing on the first line with Tyler Bozak. He brought his great shot, underrated playmaking abilities and speed down the right wing. Good stat line and offensive traits, right? I’d say so. But what was the problem with Phil Kessel? Besides the fact that he was considered our best offensive player, I hate to say it, but the reality is that everything positive that he brought; only happened on the ice when he wanted it too. Kessel is a great skater, has arguably the best release throughout the league and is considered one of the best goal scorers in the game, but only when he wants to be.
Kessel had stretches where he was one of the league’s best goal scorers, no one can stop him. Then others, where he was arguably one of the worst 1st line players in the league. He wasn’t a player to go into a corner and battle, take a hit to make a play, fore-check, play defense or stand up for his teammates. In Kessel’s defense, similar to Dion, he was brought in to be something he is not, a player to carry the offensive load for a team. I’m not here to bash, just laying down the truth. Kind of reminds you of that kid in school whom you must pair with for a project that doesn’t say or do much but when he does, it’s brilliant.
So, to recap, in hindsight, the Leafs traded a #1 centre, a top pairing defenseman and a minor league prospect for a player who’s considered to be one of the league’s best offensive threats but only when he wants to be.
Does it still sting? Of course it does at times. But we must look on the bright side. I know it’s tough but I’ll try and help out.
Following a disappointing (or successful), 2014-2015 season, the Leafs started the off-season well with a successful draft. Then, free agency followed. Shanahan and company pulled off something that was considered nearly impossible based on performance, salary and limited destinations. The Leafs announced that they traded Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Full Trade so far:
To Toronto: Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, a 2nd round pick (Acquired from the Nick Spaling trade with San Jose) , Frederik Andersen (Acquired with the 30th overall pick) and New Jersey’s 2016 3rd round pick.
To Pittsburgh: Phil Kessel (Leafs retain 15% of his salary), Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick in 2016.
When the trade happened, I know many people didn’t like it simply because “We should have gotten more”. You can argue that to an extent. I know for some, this trade may also sting for a bit. Simply seeing as a lot of people liked Phil and due to the fact that he went on to have a very solid playoff run with the Penguins. But for a guy who only showed up when he wanted to, how much more should we have gotten? Let’s take a look at the results so far:
Kasperi Kapanen: An undersized but offensively gifted player who has a good set of hands and great speed. Projects to be a top 6 forward.
Scott Harrington: Steady defenseman with size who can use it to his advantage. Projects more as shut down defenseman (No, that’s not a bad thing). If you’re still unsure about him, Mark Hunter, the guy who you probably claim to love and trust, is very familiar with the player.
Nick Spaling: He was not part of the future and was turned into a 2nd round pick from San Jose.
Frederik Andersen: A youngish goalie that played a big part in the Ducks deep run back in 2015. With his ability to play his position and assurance that he will be the man in net for quite some time, we should expect good things from Andersen when we’re ready.
The 72nd pick: Of course as of right now, we have no idea what the draft pick will turn out to be, but we will soon. That’s where I’d like to step in.
I’ll also throw in cap space as an asset acquired. Although we retained a bit of Phil’s salary for the remainder of his contract, we unloaded a big contract (for the most part). Could that space be used to sign a big free agent perhaps?
The two draft picks acquired are from the 2016 class. The two picks were Pittsburgh’s first round pick and New Jersey’s third round pick. Originally I had set up who would be targeted for the 30th overall pick but of course that turned into Frederik Andersen so we won’t have to worry about that. I would like to let you readers know what may be up for grabs with the 72nd pick from views and rankings. While the 2016 draft class may not be as deep as the 2015 one, I like to think there are still some solid players out there to be had.
For the following, I will be using The Draft Analysts’ (AKA Steve Kournianos) rankings. Let’s take a look at some potential pickups with the pick acquired from the deal:
Now of course this is where things get tricky in the draft. The Leafs also acquired the Devils 3rd round pick in 2016 from Pittsburgh and now with the season completed this puts the pick at 72nd overall which is pretty solid.
At #72 where our Leafs are once again on the clock, Steve has Kelowna Rockets forward Dillon Dube and while I do like Dube as a player, my pick would go to Swedish defenseman Jacob Cederholm at #72 if he is available.
Cederholm is a big defenseman who plays his position very well. Downside of this player is his lack of offense and foot speed but he does possess a long stride, which he uses to his advantage. More of a shutdown guy but is very good at doing so. He is tough to play against which is what you want on your team. He won’t wow you with skill and end-to-end rushes like most defensemen tend to attempt but he’ll play a smart stay-at-home game. A potential top 4 defenseman at the NHL level if all goes well.
As for notables that went 72nd overall, well to be quite honest, there aren’t many (If any at all depending what you consider notable) in the past five years or so. Besides maybe Anthony Cirelli from the 2015 draft, I’d have to go back further and mention Jonathan Quick, Cal Clutterbuck and Chris Drury.
From what I saw in the ranking, the Leafs have the opportunity to grab an effective player with the pick. Want to know the best part? Mark Hunter is a genius so he’ll know who to target with these selections.
In conclusion, Phil Kessel was brought in here to be something he is not at possibly the worst time. The truth is, we were not going anywhere with him being considered our best player especially with the new deal he signed before his departure. You can win with a player like him on your team; he just can’t be considered your top guy. I know this whole things sounds like I’m bashing Kessel but that isn’t my intention. Just being honest about what I saw from him during his time here. I actually want to thank Phil Kessel when it’s all said and done. When he was on his game here, he was fun to watch and without a doubt, our best player by a few miles.
As for the trade, we didn’t re-acquire a #1 center or top pairing defenseman like we gave up in hindsight and we likely won’t get that with the pick acquired for this year’s draft. Or will we? If Kessel is on the team for 2015-2016, not only do we miss out on the picks along with Kapanen and Harrington, but we also miss out on a chance to select a future #1 center in Auston Matthews. So you can argue that we did or didn’t get enough out of the deal involving Kessel. Discuss amongst yourselves but I will say this: without the trade, we don’t get the #1 pick we’ve all been drooling over and it also maybe, just maybe, gives us less of a chance to sign that one guy come free agency. Plus we ended up acquiring our future goaltender in Andersen which is far better than drafting a goalie at just 18 years old and having to wait around 5 years for him to develop, in my opinion.
Thank you Phil, seriously thank you. But with all due respect, this is something that had to happen for both sides. All the best.
Thanks for reading!
Special shoutout to Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) for letting me use a portion of his rankings for this piece. Steve is a very dedicated and knowledgeable scout. I highly recommend you check out his work and follow him on twitter for great insight. Cheers!