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With the Leafs flying high, forget the “rumours”: would you, if you were Dave Nonis, trade our man Kessel?

It would be interesting to know how many words have written about the “Phil Kessel trade” with the Bruins.  As some of you well know, I’ve opined on this subject on more than one occasion myself here at VLM.  I’ve tried to assess things non-emotionally, and from what I hope is a reasonable and balanced perspective.  While  I recognize that many Leaf fans just want us all to “move on”, and stop harping on who and what the Bruins have (a Cup, and Seguin and Hamilton for years to come…) from that big deal, to me, trades, as I’ve mentioned here previously, are part of what most fans love to dissect—before and after the fact. It’s a huge part of the fun of being a fan.  My guess is when Leaf fans say “stop talking about it, it’s over” they are really saying we “lost” the trade.  And I’m not sure there was a winner and a loser in the big swap.  Both sides got what they wanted—the Bruins simply got even more than they bargained for, you might say.

But today I’m not interested in going over old trades again.  This is always your forum, and I am particularly seeking you input today, as fellow Leaf observers.   We all know that Kessel has brought a lot to the Leafs in the last three plus seasons—plenty of goals and more than that, some legitimate excitement on the ice for a team (and their fans) that hasn’t been much to cheer about over the past eight years or so. 

Many nights he is one of the most dangerous guys (if not the most dangerous) on the ice for either team.  Those who follow my musings here at VLM know my longstanding view on Phil:  whether he scores or not in any given game (nothing for 10 games this season, then the game-winner in Winnipeg and another in Montreal Saturday night), to me, he plays pretty much the same every night.  The only difference is that, some nights, the puck finds a home in the back of the net; other times, it misses by an inch, a foot, or hits the crossbar, whatever.  Does that sometimes fraction of an “inch” really mean he is “playing” any better or worse?  He's really playing better if the puck happens to go in?  I don’t think so. 

Oh, his overall game is maybe a bit better at times.  But I don’t think he has ever been a total defensive “floater” here in Toronto.  Like most offensively gifted players who are more prone to be interested in scoring and making plays (who isn’t?) than doing the dirty work, he does the occasional fly-by in the defensive zone, but also, when motivated, makes sure he comes back in dangerous situations.  He’s fast enough to get back most of the time before damage is done.  To me, he is most like a fish out of water when his line is trapped in its own zone, and he is not quite sure what to do.  But he’s not alone in this regard.  He’s not a physical player who is going to change the flow of a game by blocking a shot or running a guy over very often.

But he has been an electric player at times, and with better, well, let’s just say an opportunity to play with similarly gifted guys (as his success with Lupul seems to attest) his ceiling in terms of offensive production is probably even higher than what we have seen here. (In some ways he's a bit like Mats Sundin for Leaf fans.  I admit I was slow to warm up to Sundin, but over time I saw his value more and more to a franchise that relied heavily on his skills, durability, leadership and ability to make those around him better.  Not sure Phil has quite all of those traits, but he may end up being one of those players that fans look back and appreciate more after he's gone...)

In any event, all this said, we’ve all heard the “rumours” that are out there about Kessel—that Nonis is quietly, very quietly, putting the word out that Kessel could be available in the “right” deal. 

This is something we’ve touched on in this space on occasion, not as a way of bashing Kessel or suggesting we should get rid of him, but simply in the context of wondering aloud whether he will want to stay and sign here as a UFA (assuming he does not re-up with the Leafs beforehand) when he becomes a free-agent in the summer of 2014, I think it is.

If the Leafs don’t feel as though Kessel genuinely wants to stay and play here (not that he would tip his hand, even privately), it would of course behoove them to get something for him while he is still such a valuable properly.  And the timing would not necessarily just be before at the trade deadline in 2014 before he hits free-agency.  Presumably the organization would want to move him to a team that could have him in the lineup for the rest of this season and all of next year, before looming free-agency.  Surely that would allow the Leafs to get a lot more in return than for a mere “rental”.

In any event, I’m interested in your views.  This isn’t about whether you “like” Kessel as a Maple Leaf.  Set that aside for today.  Is your view that we need to keep Kessel (at all costs, cap-wise?) and build in addition to him, Lupul, van Riemsdyk, etc.?  Or are you of the school of thought that leads you to believe we need to move Phil when we could still get a lot (assuming we can) for him?

A year ago, some fans would have traded Kessel for Rick Nash even up.  I’m one of those who more thinks that the idea is to add elite players into the lineup if and when possible as opposed to simply replacing one with another player who will do much the same thing.

Where do you sit? 

Again, I don’t care about the supposed rumours.  I’m neither trying to stoke the fires or just react to those reports.  I’m simply wondering if, regardless of whether the Leafs actually are (or could soon be) in trade discussions about Kessel, whether they should be?

Let me know your thoughts—and why you feel the way you do.


Missed some recent VLM posts?  If you'd like to catch up...

  • Speaking of trades, how some recent ex-Leafs are doing these days


  1. I'm one of those who isn't even prepared to say we "lost" the trade. Both teams benefited. So, as you might guess, I'd try to keep Phil. Not only is he an elite scorer, he's a tremendous playmaker. Watch any game, and you'll see him make at least three beautiful passes to his teammates for primo scoring opportunities. He may get a little more protection this year - if he does, watch him really put up the numbers. Yzerman had Probert, Gretzky had Semenko - it makes a difference!
    But... "keep him at all costs"? That's another kettle of Phil, if you will. That would depend on what we're being offered. It couldn't be just the dreaded "prospects". it would have to include proven NHL'ers who could fit into Carlyle's system. Could we make up the 30+ goals a year? Unlikely, I'd say. But perhaps there's some sort of package that would make sense.
    As we watch the Leafs jell into a team this year - and it's really been a pleasure to see them becoming exactly that - it reminds me that you have to figure in that old intangible - "chemistry". I like where the Leafs seem to be headed these days - I'd hate to compromise that unless it was absolutely necessary.

  2. Kessel's playmaking skills have probably been underrated, Gerund O'. You are right to point that out.

    I don't think any player is untouchable. My preference is to add elite talent. (Easy to say, much harder to acquire and keep!) At some point, when they are close enough to really contending, Nonis will be in a position to trade futures for immediate help Thanks, Gerund.

  3. I think it all depends on Phil Kessel. Is he willing to sign to continue playing in Toronto at a reasonable price?

    Not every player wants to come play in Toronto. Some players specifically don't want to play in Toronto.

    Kessel is hard to read. If he is one of the few elite players willing to play in Toronto, sign him and don't think about trading him.

    Kessel's presence combined with Lupul my help lure that franchise centre to Toronto. Without Kessel does that player want to come?

    Also if you can sign Kessel, you can focus on perfecting the supporting cast. An extra $500,000 a year on another role player like McClement or Komorov might be enough to entice that role player to come to TO. Elite players have more options and can't be swayed by smaller amounts of money.

    1. For whatever they're worth, you have mirrored my thoughts, DP.

      The first question to be answered/influenced is whether or not he is considering a future in Toronto and the rest needs to flow from there. It must be tough for Nonis that he is such private person.

      I also second your comment about Kessel's presence providing allure for the 1C we will hopefully be courting at some point. Regardless of how well they might currently be combining as a unit, how much more attractive an option is Toronto with Kessel there to play beside?

  4. This is the thing, DP. As you say, not everyone wants to be here. With Kessel here, maybe we do have a better chance at attracting a UFA centre, though I wonder if it isn't mostly about money and location for a lot of those guys. We are a prime hockey "destination", yet what elite, experienced UFA has chosen to come here since Curtis Joseph?

    You have mentioned the importance of players like McClement before, and he has certainly been an effective, versatile player for us thus far. Enhancing the "bottom six", as you have noted previously, will be important.

  5. Trading a player to get a similar one in return doesn't get your team anywhere. I also believe teams should add quality to what they already have. If you trade (this name just popped into my head because he scored as many goals as Kessel) James Neal for Kessel, what are you getting? Isn't he almost the same player Kessel is? So in reality you didn't actually change your team, just the names on the roster.

    I say if we can keep Kessel and add to our team, build around our best players, fantastic. I don't think a team can have too much talent.

    As far as untouchables go, we don't have any Gretzky's, but Kessel, Gardiner, Kadri, Frattin, Phaneuf and Reilly are who you build around.

  6. It strikes me as similar t the discussion last season, when there were supposed rumblings the Leafs were interested in Rick Nash, portuguese leaf. Trading Kessel for Nash straight up always struck me as not the point. As you say, while it's not easy to do, the notion is too try and add to your base of elite guys, I would think. (I think Gardiner has been 'untouchable', but it's hard to know if many other guys are!)

  7. MIchael,

    We lost the trade. Kessel has scored a lot of goals in Toronto, more than a hundred since the trade. Not one of those goals have made the Leafs a playoff team. Or helped the team raise the Stanley Cup. He is a fine player, nice abilities in lots of areas. He is not a franchise player. I call him a secondary talent on a great team. Burke would have been much better off not trying to make a splash in his new home. The Leafs have finished, 29th, 22nd, and 25th overall since the Kessel trade. Presumably if they don't trade for him they will score fewer goals and finish worse. Not much worse, because, well standings. Can't fall too far from there. This would have granted the team an even more enviable draft pick on two other occasions. Second overall is pretty good. Seguin could have gone first overall that year if I remember correctly. There is no reason to have made the trade, in hindsight, other than ego. Bad team before the trade, bad team after, and we gave up draft picks. The trade was a huge loss for Toronto. As lopsided a trade as I have ever seen. Mostly because Boston won the Cup without him and Toronto didn't get any better with him. Plus Seguin, Hamilton and a pick that seems to have been forgotten. Boston benefitted and Toronto didn't.

    Kessel is available and honestly, he should be. Not that I don't like him as a player, I do. The Leafs should not have any untouchables right now. Maybe Rielly, but c'mon. Not even the most optimistic Leafs fan thinks a run at the Cup is in the works right now. I give Burke a lot of crap for not being right about his team, and Kessel. He deserves it, but not trying to improve your team isn't the right solution. If Nonis thinks he is getting better return than he is giving up, I would implore him to trade anyone. That is the game, to trade up. Yes, I will second guess him after the fact. Tough cookies, that is what fans do. If some team comes calling and wants Phil, and is willing to give up too much to get him. You make the trade.

    MIchael, we have to disagree a little here. Kessel is a better player when he scores. There can be no real argument about it. He is paid to score goals, and when he does, he played better than when he doesn't. The red light goes on for goals, not for back checks in the neutral zone. Or hits, or whatever. Goals matter, I think that is why they put them on the scoreboard.

    In order to raise the Cup, the Leafs need to improve. In all areas. This improvement can be internal, or external. Nonis is aware of this I hope, I also wish him some luck in making more Phaneuf trades and fewer Kessels.Big game tonight against the Flyers. Another good team that has struggled comes into our barn. Can we ride the wave of pugilism from Saturday? We shall see who takes a bite out of whom.

  8. Two goals in two games, and the collective media aneurism has abated...can't let the sh$& stirrers get too deep into our heads, they're just trolling for readers/ratings.

  9. A well thought-out perspective, Jim. I expect no less from you. Thanks.

    And yes, another match-up that may inform us a bit more about what the Leafs "are" at this point. We'll be tuned in....

  10. Thanks Anon. Just to be clear, I would have posted this, regardless of the "two goals in two games". My views on Kessel don't shift whether he is scoring or not.

  11. My preference is to build around Kessel...but he needs to commit. He must demonstrate that he wants to be here.
    Our market, like Montreal, is different and is not for just anyone.
    Kessel to me has proven that he is mentally tough enough to survive and thrive here should he want to embrace the opportunity.
    As the team gets better around him I think it will become more and more apparent that he is an elite winger just entering his prime.
    I think its possible for him to hit Parise like numbers (45+ goals, 95+ points, +20).

    I really hope that we get to see what he does for the Leafs in a playoff series.

  12. Let's face it, Kessel is a fast, crafty, and skilled sniper. Those types of players are hard to come by, and they are desired by many teams. Leafs would be hard-pressed to replace his offensive contributions in any type of trade.

    Under what options would any team actually consider trading such a player?

    Option A) The team has an abundance of talent and can afford trading the player for another key piece and/or for future prospects.

    Certainly not the case for the Leafs.

    Option B) The team is in a rebuild, and needs to sell assets to build for the future.

    It was apparent with Burke that the Leafs were not going to tear down and rebuild, and Nonis shows no signs of changing direction. Adding pieces yes, but a rebuild no.

    Option C) Blockbuster trade with a package of players going both ways.

    Maybe Fletcher or Burke could pull something off, but such a move would be risky if not highly improbable. Suspect Nonis is too conservative to seek out such a bold move.

    Option D) Trade the player to get value now, knowing that you are likely to lose them as a UFA.

    Kessel would be an attractive UFA, and sought after by many teams. However, we've seen nothing from Kessel that would indicate he is unhappy in Toronto, or that he would not be willing to re-sign with the team. Not sure what the terms are for his limited NTC next season, but suspect there is enough latitude to facilitate a trade if the Leafs wanted to go that route. So if I was Nonis, I'd try to negotiate a deal in the off-season. If Kessel and his agent demanded too much, or looked as though they'd rather test free agency, then I'd start shopping him around. BUT, as of now I've seen nothing to indicate a deal can't be done here in Toronto.

    One last comment.... I'm not sure having Kessel here in Toronto is necessary in order to attract other quality players to come to Toronto. Yes it would confirm Toronto has a strong desire to ice a competitive team, but is Kessel the type of personality that players gravitate towards? As we know, he is a quiet, somewhat reticent individual, almost a loner. He certainly is not a leader. Any player would like him on their team, but I don't think his presence is essential to attracting other players to come to Toronto.

  13. I think most Leaf fans agree, apollo678, that Kessel would be more productive with a generally better supporting cast. The playoff challenge is a related but important question. We have a small sample size of his efforts at playoff time with the Bruins, but he was not a centerpiece guy at the time, just a kid, really. He will be a marked man when the Leafs get there.

    If he wants to be here, my guess is Nonis will want to make it happen. But the question might be: how much will Kessel demand to stay here? Is he worth 9 million a season, for example?

    1. At 9 million/season he would be making more than Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos, Parise, etc.
      I guess next to Ovechkin, he would be the highest paid player in the game.
      IF he demanded that AND the salary cap was 64 million then you are going to have to walk away. If the salary cap was 100 million then sure, give him the 9 million.

  14. Two quick points, Don (TML_Fan). On the "C" option you note above, Nonis did make a fairly bold move in Vancouver to acquire Luongo, so who knows what he might do, eh?

    To your last paragraph/comment: I sense you have described Kessel pretty well, in terms of how players on other teams would see him. A skilled player, for sure, but not a guy that others would say, "Hey, I need to go play with him in Toronto". Not many players have that kind of cache. Thanks, Don.

  15. I think it really depends on whether or not Kessel wants to stay in Toronto or not. Also, whether or not Nonis believes in his core group of players. Before the trade with Boston unfolded, I thought I remembered hearing rumours that Kessel wanted to come to Toronto but maybe after being here long enough, that desire has waned a little. I hope that Nonis at least explores the option to see what's out there. I would even throw Dion's name into the mix.
    I'm not really a believer in Phanuef and Kessel as the centerpiece of a franchise. That's just my personal opinion. I'm not going to list reasons why because I've exhausted myself from arguing with friends about it. Does that mean I wouldn't have them on my team? No. But I believe that the Leafs still need to acquire more 'blue chip' prospects. Burke did a decent job of restocking the cupboards with youth, but I mean real difference makers. Build through the draft. Connor McDavid 2015

  16. The leadership question you raise, Anon, is a fair one, I believe. Both Phaneuf and Kessel are clearly very good NHL players. Whether either/both bring those 'extra' elements that make players special, and also make them stand apart when it really counts (i.e. playoff time), I'm not sure we know yet.

    I have to believe in today's NHL (and it's always been this way, really) GM's don't generally fall in love with players. Players are assets, and if a GM feels they can improve their team in terms of either skill, toughness, experience, leadership, whatever, just about any player is "available". Thanks Anon.

  17. I think the Leafs have to trade him. The reason is timing becasue I don't think that he likes the spotlight of Toronto and will be leaving in free agency. Also the Leafs do not have the depth of prospects in the organisation yet. If Kessel could give them (and this is the reported value) a young player, a high prospect and a 1st or 2nd then the Leafs would be much deeper. In 3-4 years when these players are maturing they would have a potential contender.

    Right now all Kessel does is help them be mediocre. Never bad enough to get the high draft picks and never good enough to contend. Trade Kessel and Lupul and maybe Phaneuf and set the timing via your prospects for 3-5 years from now.

    And before you judge this too harshly consider this - if (for instance) the Islanders thought that Kessel beside Tavares would be really valuable then would you (the Leafs) accept Strome and Niderieter plus a pick in return? Combined with Kadri, Frattin, Kulimen etc would you not start to feel like the Leafs had a "core" that could really do something in a couple of years?

  18. 9 million is a lot, I realize, apollo678- that's a number I was throwing out there, but who knows what he will look for if it gets to that point?

  19. I see where you are going with your post, Anon.

    My guess is that Nonis will entertain any serious approach to making this team a true contender in the years ahead. If that meant trading Kessel for a significant package of emerging young players (cost-controlled, to a certain extent), then it is certainly possible. Thanks for chiming in.

  20. Quite simply i would love kessel to stay and the leafs add more quality around him i know he only has a couple of goals so far but the rest of his play has been good imo no lack of effort or commitment

  21. I'm on the fence, KiwiLeaf, when it comes to the notion that Kessel's presence may attract a top-flight center to Toronto. DP and TML_fan have different perspectives on this subject, and I'm in between!

    There's no question this will, in large part, come down to whether Kessel really wants to be here. We'll know soon enough.

  22. Yes the Leafs lost the deal when considering what ultimately end up going to Boston. That said, no one at the time of the deal would have projected that type of return nor anyone thought that Kessel would have average over 30 goals consistently. Many experts projected an young not yet fully proven player thus 2 first and a second was too high. 2 good seasons does not an elite player make the rationale. In my opinion that extra 1st should not have been given but a third per the CBA or at least lottery protected (a mistake that no other GM will make in the future) - That said, I understand why Burke did it and credit to him for seeing the talent in Kessel - not so much in the talent of the Leafs at that time. Even at that; Seguin, Knight and whomever, it still hurt...but not as much.

    I predict Burke would have not made the deal had he knew the result although he would never admit that. But in his mind; Kessel was for 2 mid round 1st and 2nd, something that anyone can live with given a consistent 30 goal scorer. No one saw it coming and ultimately, that is the risk you take. Burke gave Boston an extra pick because I feel, it was one of honor. He knew Charelli was in a pickle and could have taken advantage of him but choose to be more diplomatic. This gesture in my opinion allowed the Karbele trade. A trade that however you slice it, is a win for the Leafs. In the end, no one would have made the same deal had we knew. Not even the man that made it happened.

    What we also must look at is that draft position does not guarantee success. I was reviewing the 2006 draft the other day and it is laughable now that Claude Giruox and Milan Lucic was passed over by so many teams. Hindsight is always perfect. Yes I wouldn't do the deal now, Yes we lost badly so far, Yes it was a bad trade and Yes the outcome favoured Boston heavily but the Leafs did okay too.

    In relation to the Kessel's current situation, I don't see why he would be traded unless he is unwilling to sign a deal past UFA. If that is the case, you try to get the best deal in return.

    What you have is a consistent 30 plus scorer, proven albeit only once, playoff performer and is only 26 by the time he is UFA. Yes he is defensively liable at times but what true sniper isn't and one player does not make the failure of being scored upon. On this issue, I sit with a position that what matters is the Crest and not the name on the back. No player is untouchable but to trade Kessel because we would have gotten Seguin, Hamilton and Jarred and we must trade the bum is ridiculous.

    Unfortunately, some Leafs fans will continue to compare what the Leafs gave up and criticized Kessel for it. This will forever be criticized and replayed especially with those who get paid by the words written. If Calgary got over it, it's time for Leafs fans to do the same