Kessel: Point, sort of Counterpoint

The secret transcript has become a staple of the blogosphere. There are a few men out there who have no secrets, one visit to a chatty cathy bloodbath knows Chemmy is one of these men.

Late yesterday afternoon, a twitter feed from AM640's Greg Brady touched off a frenzy of speculation as to where Bruins RFA Phil Kessel might be headed.

What follows is a transcript of an IM session between Chemmy and MF37 discussing the merits of Kessel and the potential cost to the Leafs.

The chat took place over two sessions, the first while Mf37 was making dinner for his kids and the second while Chemmy was watching an NFL game. In other words, the matter didn't exactly have their full, undivided attention.

The revealing of the not-so-secret transcript and an exchange of semi-formed ideas after the jump...

Chemmy: I'm thinking about this Kessel RFA rumour and the draft picks the Leafs would have to give up to get him.

MF37: A 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick to the Bruins. The perfect fodder for a MacLean's side-bar article in 2021.

Chemmy: Next year's draft is supposed to be total garbage after Taylor Hall and Kirill Kabanov; however, the 1999 draft that saw Stefan go first overall was supposed to be an excellent draft and everyone from that draft stunk. A lot.

I think the Leafs will finish somewhere between 8th and 10th in the East, meaning their top draft pick in an allegedly soft draft will be in the teens - not exactly a sure fire pick that inspires a ton of confidence. We could end up with a Louis Leblanc.
 
My conclusion from all of this is that ditching a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick for Kessel makes sense. He's 21 and probably a lock to score 30 goals. Any GM that could guarantee an 18 year old prospect would develop into a 30 goal scorer at age 21 and could be acquired for a 2nd and a 3rd would pull that trigger no question.

So I guess the question is: does getting Kessel start to legitimize the Leafs as a team, or are they jumping the gun? Or are the Leafs just grabbing elite talent when it's available because you just have to?
 
MF37: That's a lot of questions and I three have more.

  1. Can the Leafs draft a talent that is comparable to Kessel in that slot?
  2. Knowing the expected development cycle of picks, are the Leafs better off with Kessel - who'll be four years into his development cycle by the time the 2010 draft rolls around - or an 18 year old prospect?
  3. With the recent the spike in value of draft picks, is there a third option where they Leafs trade that first round pick later this season for a player close to Kessel's caliber?

Chemmy: I'm not sure the Leafs can develop talent at all, but we drafted Tlusty in the 13 spot. Plenty of game changers have gone from that slot or later; Getzlaf, Richards, etc. The issue isn't "can" someone develop a Kessel from the mid first round: it's "what's the probability?". The probability that we'll develop something equal to Kessel from the mid teens of the 2010 draft is incredibly low.

MF37: I guess what I'm aiming at is that the value of a first round draft pick has never been higher, especially relative to their pay - an all important factor in a capped environment.

Chemmy: Only one first rounder moved at the deadline last year and it was part of the Calgary trade for Jokinen. It was the 20th overall pick so it would seem like you can get big bang for your money moving your first at the deadline. That said I think Kessel is worth a bit more than Olli Jokinen. This is an interesting comparison to occur naturally though; both are talented players who have been described as "locker room cancer".

MF37: But look at how well that turned out for Calgary...oh, wait.

Chemmy: The value of first round picks might be at an all time high, but I don't think any team would give up a 21 year old sniper for a mid first round draft pick, especially because the offer sheet sets their value higher, the offer sheet says an RFA is worth an exact amount.

MF37: True enough, but the Leafs are also going to lose a 2nd rounder (that's a Dominic Moore or Nik Antropov right there) and a 3rd rounder (I have no idea what a 3rd round pick is worth, Matt Stajan with a full head of hair and faster reaction time to stray soccer balls?).

If the Leafs hold on to those three picks the players drafted in 2010 won't make an impact with the club until 2013, if not later. They may play in 2011 or 2012, but the earliest they're going to make a difference is 2013. They will likely be on entry level deals through to 2014.

To put that in perspective, Bozak and Hanson are UFAs in 2011.

Kadri and Schenn are RFAs in 2012 (when one will be signed to an RFA offer sheet by the Bruins after Chiarelli keeps Burke on hold for 35,000 hours).

Colton Orr and Mike Komisarek are the only current player under contract in 2013.

This is a long rambling (and likely boring) way of getting at what I really want to know: what's Burke's expectation for this team's development cycle? Signing Kessel certainly expedites the Leafs' return to competitiveness, but what does adding Kessel mean in terms of building a truly elite team?

Chemmy: Based on the offer sheet rules Kessel will probably get a 5 year contract. He'll be 26 when that contract ends and just about to hit his peak as a player. We'll also have a 23 year old Nazem Kadri, 26 year old Jiri Tlusty and a 25 year old Luke Schenn.

Most NHL prospects don't crack the league at 18 and make noise by 21. Kessel will be in sync with our current crop of rookies. If he costs a ton of money to lock up because he's been excellent for his five years that's a problem we're happy to have. If we don't give him a NMC/NTC his fifth year we trade him for a king's ransom if we can't lock him down.

I think adding Kessel helps develop our centers. Giving Kadri, Bozak and Grabovski the option of dishing to a pure sniper allows them to showcase their playmaking skills and break games open.


MF37: I hope it's five years.  If Kessel signs for three years, he'll make the Leafs competitive, but he'll be gone before the Leafs youngsters mature enough to make this team a real threat.

The other big question of yours is one I can't answer but would love to ask half-a-dozen GMs: do you grab elite talent when it's available because you just have to? Or, do you have to have more patience and take timing/term/cap and multi-year plans into account?

Chemmy: Yeah. My gut instinct is you grab elite talent when it's available and build around it. It's a more concrete strategy than hoping Rico Fata ends up on your first line.
 
MF37: I'll throw in a caveat - I think you grab elite talent if the acquisition and compensation costs don't jeopardize on-ice success. Teams need a certain amount of cap room/flex and a steady influx of entry-level talent as a form of salary control.

My biggest concern in all of this remains whether or not Kessel is the real deal. For some reason, I've always doubted it. What if it turns out he's just the next Rob Brown?
 
Chemmy: The next Cheechoo.
 
MF37: Don't say it.

Chemmy: Kessel finished 12th in the NHL in goals as a 21 year old clearly a lot of that is Savard but Kessel only played 70 games.

MF37: Yeah, not having a Savardian set-up man is a big deal. Who's going to pass this guy the puck. It isn't going to be Grabovski, that's for sure. I doubt Kessel is dying to play on a line centred by Stajan, Primeau or Mitchell. Maybe Jason Alison is the ace in the hole. By the time Kessel is healthy enough to play in November/December, Allison will have hopefully built up enough speed to crossing the red lie and heading towards the offensive zone.

Chemmy: I've always liked Kessel.

I liked him in the NCAA. I think he's a bit of a baby but he's incredibly intense on the ice.  He's from Wisconsin, he knows that Minnesota-UW is a big stage and he snipes this goal and taunts the whole crowd in their building that's the kind of player I like. Listen to 20,000 people boo a kid in his rookie year in the NCAA as soon as he gets the puck
 
MF37: I wonder about his attitude. It was widely noted how bad his attitude was in his draft year.
 
Chemmy: Bad attitude? Burke and Wilson with Team USA make me not worried. In the words of Gilmore Tuttle: "we'll straighten you out, you little prick".

MF37: I still have too many unresolved questions to be completely down with Kessel. Is he healthy? What's the prognosis for his surgery? Is he the real deal or the next Cheechoo? 

Why do I have the feeling that if the Leafs sign him he'll be the next Bryan Bradley, but if he goes to Colorado he'll be the next Joe Mullen?

Chemmy: What's the old saying? Who dares wins? This is a salary cap league. If as an organization Toronto decides to be completely risk-averse we're never going anywhere. I think all indicators, such as Kessel only missing eleven games when they cut off one of his testicles and going through chemo while playing, say Kessel's a pretty rugged kid. He played through his shoulder injury through the last part of the season much like Marian Hossa. No one's worried about Hossa coming back and playing his game.

MF37: If I were a Hawks fan, I'd be worried about Hossa's health, just like if I were a Rangers fan I'd be worried about Marian Gaborik's tissue-paper groin and oragami hip...As The Meatriarchy has pointed out, the Leafs have invested in a number of players who are all coming off big injuries...

I think we're pretty much in agreement here. If the acquisition cost isn't crazy - say a 1, 2, and 3rd round pick - the Leafs should pull the trigger. 

If this goes the trade route (sign and trade, or Leafs acquire Kessel's RFA rights) what's the price point at which you can't get behind this deal?

Chemmy: I think the price for a trade won't exceed a 1st, 2nd and 3rd because otherwise someone will just offer sheet Kessel and be done with it. If the Bruins go "sign and trade" I think teams will just wait a week for Boston to have to dump salary. Bruins fans on HFBoards, that bastion of well informed trades, were already hoping for Schenn which is obviously never going to happen.

If the Bruins wanted something like a 1st, 3rd, and Stajan I'd do that in a heartbeat but I'd say guys like Tlusty, Stefanovich, DiDomenico, Mitchell (Dale and John) are somewhat untouchable in that trade. I basically consider a 3rd round pick expendable and a 2nd round pick a total gamble. If those two things are all that stands in the way of flipping a 1st for a 21 year old elite player then Burke better get offer sheetin'.

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