Toronto Maple Leafs Acquire Phil Kessel (Update)

Darren Dreger of TSN is reporting that Brian Burke, the truculent GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has acquired Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins. Damien Cox has just reported that it's a 5 year deal for $27M and the Bruins will receive two first round picks and a second round pick.

Phil Kessel

#81 / Right Wing / Toronto Maple Leafs

6-0

180

Oct 02, 1987

The process of completing the long-rumoured deal began to accelerate once the Maple Leafs re-acquired their 2nd round pick in 2010 in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. The rumours abounded from both the traditional media and the blogerati as everyone tried to be the first to guess what would happen. In the end, the pot was sweetened from a 3rd round pick to a second first rounder. 

One of the things that was debated here at length was why the Leafs were not just giving Kessel an offer sheet. I think that there are a few reasons:

  • The Bruins publicly announced that they were going to match any offer sheet made.
  • Kessel's injury meant that he could be placed on Long-Term Injury Reserve by the Bruins once the offer sheet was made. This gave Chiarelli a bit more leeway as long as the deal came before October 1st when the season begins. If it came after then he couldn't put Kessel on LTIR before going over the cap.
  • The Predators' interest meant that there was a team that could conceivably offer Kessel and the Bruins more.

At the end of the day, Burke didn't have as much leverage as we had hoped and Burke has identified Phil Kessel as an elite offensive talent something that the Leafs have lacked since Mats Sundin was in his prime. Even then, Mats was not really among the league's best scorers and Phil Kessel definitely has that potential. There has already been and will continue to be a lot of hand wringing over the loss of the Leafs' next two first rounders. David Johnson has highlighted an argument that Howard Berger and Bob McCown have already made:

Trading two first rounders is the equivalent of send Luke Schenn and Nazem Kadri to the Bruins for Phil Kessel

This is such a simplistic and borderline ridiculous argument that I can't believe that they can make it with a straight face. Actually, I can but it still shocks me. David did a good job of highlight the reply to that argument. You cannot begin to make those comparisons without taking into account the quality of the draft in the next two seasons or the Leafs' eventual draft position. If the best they could do with two of their worst teams in the last 16 years was 7th worst how are we supposed to believe that next year they'll be the worst team in the league? 

Flashback to Daoust's draft masterpiece and you can begin to see what kind of players were drafted where you think that the Leafs will end up. The key thing to me is that Burke must be making this deal with the thought that not only are the Leafs going to make the playoffs this year but will improve in the next. He must also believe that he can partially replenish the picks. The Leafs have a lot of cap space going forward and a number of players in contract years that could be moved.

That is not to say that this deal is not a gamble. Daoust may have shown that some aspects of the draft are definitely a crap shoot but first rounders are important picks. SkinnyFish showed that 55% of NHLers were selected in the first three rounds so the Leafs have gambled that Kessel will be better than those two players. But it's not just NHLers that are drafted early, it's impact NHLers. The Falconer looked at last year's playoff teams and found that 44% of the goalies, 74% of first line forwards, and 33% of top pairing defencemen were drafted in the first round.

The other criticism will be that the Leafs are rebuilding and therefore cannot trade a single draft pick. Already Steve Simmons has invoked the name of Owen Nolan. The massive difference would be that Phil Kessel is 21 years old. Yes, he is coming off of a pretty serious surgery but he has already returned from testicular cancer. This kid is a fighter. Burke's prowess in signing college free agents will hopefully take some of the sting out of losing the picks but at the end of the day the Leafs acquired a 21 year old 36 goal scorer that, if he was worth acquiring later on in his career, would likely not have hit the open market again. GMs are paid to take calculated risks and I trust that Burke looked at what he had in camp, where he thought the team was going, and the odds of landing a player of Kessel's quality via other routes and determined that this deal had to be made right now. Just think of the two first rounders as Jeff Ware and Luca Cereda and smile. Until they turn out to be Schenn and Kadri of course.

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