There is no surprise as Phil Kessel tops our ranking of the Maple Leafs' top 25 prospects.
The first instalment of the PPP Top 25 Under 25 series was one that was inevitably going to be a bit of a letdown for a conclusion. Phil Kessel was always going to be #1; it wasn't even a question, and his unanimous selection as #1 was pretty much a foregone conclusion when we started. In fact, if somebody didn't vote Kessel #1, then we'd have something to talk about.
But Kessel's play this season has simply removed all doubt. He's already scored 31 goals this season, his 4th season scoring more than 30 goals in the NHL. I was curious where that placed him among the top snipers in the league. Since the lockout, Kessel's 4 season with 30 or more goals puts him in a tie for 9th, with Gaborik, Malkin, Parise, St. Louis, Vanek and Zetterberg. He's behind Iginla, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin (all with 6), and Crosby, Heatley, Marleau, Nash and Eric Staal (5). If you add the restriction of players who accomplished it under the age of 25, he's tied for 3rd. Only Ovechkin (6) and Crosby (5) had more 30-goal seasons under the age of 25.
Kessel's 158 goals are good for 39th in the league since the lockout, on a Goals Per Game basis, he's 31st. Dropping the restriction to players under the age of 25, he has scored the 9th. most goals in the league (since the lockout) before his 25th birthday.
The next time someone brings up the extravagant price the Leafs paid for Kessel, ask them what they would have ponied up for a 22 year old Rick Nash. Their stats to that point (and age 25) are pretty comparable.
There isn't a whole lot more to say about the rankings; Kessel was rightfully the unanimous choice as #1 on our list. So let's talk about something else.
If like me you listen to the Marek vs. Wyshynski Podcast, you'll know that recently they've been discussing the great trades in NHL history that weren't made. And knowing that I'd be writing about Phil Kessel, that got me thinking...
What if the Bruins and the Leafs had completed the Kessel for Kaberle trade?
In case you don't recall, the Leafs and Bruins agreed in principle to a trade on the floor at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, to swap Tomas Kaberle for Phil Kessel. The deal fell apart due to a game broken telephone where both Brian Burke and Peter Chiarelli thought the other was included their first round pick in that draft in the deal.
Both teams pulled out of the trade, which led to two classic Burke moments; his phenomenal slow burn while the LA Kings drafted Brayden Schenn, and the iconic "Is that the kid you want?" conversation with Senators GM Bryan Murray. The Leafs, of course would take the kid they wanted in Nazem Kadri, and consummate their trade for Phil Kessel three months later. A year and half later Boston would finally get their man Kaberle in a deadline trade with the Leafs.
First things first, without Kaberle the Leafs and Bruins obviously never get together on a trade for Kaberle at the 2011 Deadline, meaning Joe Colborne and a pair of 2011 draft picks stay with the Bruins. The Leafs used one of those picks to move up and grab Tyler Biggs this summer; the other went to Colorado in exchange for John-Michael Liles, the guy the Leafs acquired to replace Kaberle.
Kadri also never gets drafted 7th by the Leafs. Maybe the Senators are able to convince the Bruins to swap the pick and move up and take him. Maybe Boston keeps the pick and takes Kadri, or maybe they take someone else in that spot. If the Bruins take Kadri, coming off his dynamite 2009-10 season with the London Knights, maybe he's the one who gets brought along slowly as a depth player for the Bruins, instead of the man the Bruins would select with the Leafs 2010 1st rounder, Tyler Seguin. They also don't draft Kadri's London teammate Jared Knight with the Leafs 2010 2nd rounder. Dougie Hamilton also ends up elsewhere, but it's impossible to say whether the Leafs would have been picking 9th in 2011.
Speaking of Seguin. I feel pretty confident he ends up a Leaf. The Leafs acquired Kessel prior to the start of the 2009-10 season and he missed the first month recovering from a shoulder injury. The Leafs were sunk by beer league goaltending which probably isn't changing. The Leafs were a disaster that season until they gained a bit of traction at the end of January, when the Dion Phaneuf and JS Giguere trades happened.
And then there's Phaneuf. With Kaberle gone, there's a definite need for a top 4 defenceman on the Leafs to start the season. We know that Burke and then Flames GM Daryl Sutter were working on the Phaneuf deal for months before it finally came together. The immediate need for a big-minute defenceman might force Burke to make that deal for Phaneuf sooner; that probably significantly alters the framework of that deal.
We haven't even mentioned many of the other moving pieces (does the Toskala-Giguere deal still happen? Does Boston still acquire Dennis Seidenberg with Kaberle in the fold in 2010? Do they have cap room to bring in Nathan Horton? What happens if Seguin lands in Toronto? Does Boston win the 2011 Cup?) that would have shaped the fates of these two franchises. I almost wish it were possible to watch the past three years unfold simultaneously just to see the divergent paths they took.
In the meantime, Phil Kessel is just entering his likely peak as a scorer, just as the Leafs as a team have progressed from lottery fodder to a team on the verge of the playoffs. As usual, Chemmy gets the last word
Fourth in points and third in goals skating with a salary dump throw in and an undrafted kid. Enough said.