The Kessel Trade: Cutting Corners

The Top 5 Events That Destroyed The Present Day Maple Leafs: Part 2

Uber-cocky Brian Burke waltzed into Toronto, bombastically promising all kinds of things he barely delivered on.  The events surrounding the acquisition are known all too well to Leafs fans so I won’t rehash the obvious details.  Earlier, I covered the big miss from the 2009 draft – Burke’s failed attempt to land John Tavares – the Kessel trade in hindsight looks as though it was an attempt to fill the same need: a stud young top line player who could carry the franchise offensively for years.  Well, Kessel did provide offense… almost as many points as Crosby and Ovechkin have over the same time period… the problem is he has brought absolutely nothing else to the table.  Should more than offense have been expected? Nope.  This was the most head scratching part of the trade: Kessel really was about as far from a “Burke-type-player” as you could get.

Kessel was as a shy kid who wanted to punch in, score goals and punch out – that’s it. He didn’t want to lead on or off the ice. He barely spoke to the media, and if he never had to do it again he would be quite content. He wasn’t a physical player, didn’t bring size and didn’t even trip the intensity meter most games. He didn’t work out in the off season, always in questionable shape. He is streaky and disappears for long stretches. In 2009, hockey fans knew all that about Phil. Burke should have known it too.  So why did he ignore all of the key attributes he valued in a player and go get Kessel?  The only conclusion I can draw is his sheer determination to short cut the rebuild. He talked himself into believing Kessel was going to be something he wasn’t.

The trade was a short sighted attempt to shortcut a proper rebuild.  Burke thought he could turn those picks into a star winger.  Well, he did get a star winger, but not a guy you build around and not a guy who was even close to fitting the framework of what he valued in a hockey player.  Not only did it fail to bring in the player he needed, it cost 3 draft picks that could have gone a long way to a proper rebuild.  Kessel also immediately cost $5.5 mil per year against the cap vs. a couple of prospects coming in on rookie deals or better yet, staying in the minors for a year or two.

The Leafs missed out on the 2nd overall pick that year, and it hurts even more when you consider:

  1. without Kessel’s point production, Leafs may have ended up 30th overall, having the pick of any player they wanted in the 2009 draft.
  2. While Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall were the consensus 1&2 picks, Ryan Johansen went 4th overall and is now a bona fide stud #1 centre, EXACTLY in the mold of the type of player Burke coveted in every single category!
  3. 6 years later, Toronto only now is in a position again to draft a potential #1 centre, a centre which they missed out on in 2009 because of a lack of patience and foresight.

Burke then spends the remainder of his time with Toronto searching for that centre, and never finds him.

Douggie Hamilton, drafted the following year by Boston with the other 1st, is settling in nicely as a legit top-4 d-man and has a ton of room before he hits his projected ceiling.  Yeah, young top-4 d-men are nice to have eh?

The Lesson Learned: There are no shortcuts to rebuilding a team anymore.

In Kessel’s defense, for a time he did become a more defensively responsible player, did crank up the intensity a times – the most memorable was in the 2013 playoffs – and his offensive production up until 2015 was nothing short of elite. It actually looked like he was going to shake off all the negatives that were said about him – all the stereotypical shortcomings of a streaky, moody scoring winger. But this year he descended right back into deserving of all those labels. He has become the poster child for what is wrong with this failed Maple Leafs team full of lazy players who look like they don’t care and sure as hell don’t try hard enough.  The “rebuild” started by Burke and continued by Nonis has been a dismal failure.  The “give-a-shit-o-meter” 2015 Maple Leafs have been one of the most pathetic group of athletes we’ve seen in this city, and standing right in the eye of the storm is Kessel.

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