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Dealing with the Phil Kessel trade

Let's try to breathe deeply and look as objectively as possible at what transpired yesterday.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

To Toronto To Pittsburgh

Kasperi Kapanen

Scott Harrington

Nick Spaling

2016 1st*

2016 3rd*

$1.25M x 7 years retained salary

Phil Kessel

Tyler Biggs

Tim Erixon

2016 2nd*

At this point, there isn't much point in defending what was unquestionably a stupid trade, but having said that, the Leafs didn't walk away from the deal with nothing, either. This isn't a Rask trade disaster, so let's take a look at the bad and good of the deal and just try to take deep breaths.

I promise to do my best not to rant, and to sum up the bad parts of this trade as succinctly as I can.

The Bad

1. The Leafs wound up with a potential 2nd line winger, a 2nd pairing defenceman, and a first round pick that will be in the low-20's as best, but will more likely fall later. This is not a good enough return for Phil Kessel today or tomorrow, when these kids have developed further. He is 16th in points in the NHL since joining the Leafs, and 6/7th among wingers, depending on if you call Claude Giroux a winger. Simply put, he is an elite scorer, and this is not a good return for an elite scorer.

2. Retaining $1.2M in salary for 7 years is insulting. While it is true that Kessel has produced slightly less than Patrick Kane, Kane has undoubtedly had better linemates, and will have a cap hit of $10.5M next season. The Penguins will be paying almost FOUR MILLIONS DOLLARS LESS for what will likely amount to very similar production going forward. Most importantly, for the Leafs, losing out on $1.2M in cap space each year for the next seven years hinders their ability to 1) pay other players who deserve it, and 2) take on other bad contracts in exchange for prospects. This $1.2M hinders the Leafs' rebuild.

3. If that was the best return being offered, the Leafs could have done one of two things, both of which would be an improvement on the current scenario: first, they could have waited until next summer, when there would be one less year of contract to pay Kessel, and when his scoring was likely to have rebounded somewhat. I would feel comfortable wagering that his value will probably be higher in a year's time. Second, they could have simply kept Kessel, because if the rest of the league isn't willing to pay for what he's worth, they might as well have kept that value for themselves.

4. The point of a deal like this for a rebuilding club is to acquire a younger player who is likely to have a similar ceiling to that of Phil Kessel's, but who is worth less now as a young player. If you can't get another player like him, then there is literally no point to trading him. Really, trading Kessel should have given the Leafs the greatest likelihood of acquiring a fantastic young player, and management has totally blown their best shot at trading for one. At this point, the team more or less has to rely on the draft to find elite talent. There remains the possibility of acquiring a player like this via free agency or a trade, but those odds are slim.

5. Woof.

The Good

1. The Leafs didn't wind up with nothing. If we had to guess at Kasperi Kapanen's ceiling, it might actually be a first line player. Is he likely to be a first line player? No, but he is obviously a skilled prospect, and I for one look forward to seeing how he rounds into form. Hockey's Future sure likes his skill and speed, and if the only knock on him is size, then we've got ourselves a player worth watching. I mean, look what Bill Guerin had to say about him following a Pens prospect camp:

"He's even better than I thought he would be. So I was very happy with him. He's just high-end talent, high-end speed. He's a very, very mature kid for his age. Obviously, having his father [Sami Kapanen] playing so many years in the NHL and playing with him and brining him up that way, he's already a pro.

So he’s ahead of the game in that department, but you just got a little screenshot of what's to come and he's not even 18 yet."

2. Scott Harrington doesn't seem like a stud defenceman, but if he becomes a solid second-pairing guy, then he's a cost-controlled option for the Leafs for a while, and hey, who doesn't need good young defenders? I'll be interested (if not excited) to see how things go for him next year on the Marlies.

Going back to Hockey's Future, they praise his "Hockey IQ" and even his mobility, so there is real hope, here. It doesn't look like he's going to produce tons of offence, but hey, we can live with that if the rest of the pieces are there.

3. The Pens' first round pick in 2016 is unlikely to yield anything crazy, but late firsts aren't nothing, either. In this year's draft alone, Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter turned one late first into three prospects, and considering how much of a priority the team put on skill at the draft, there is reason to think that that one of them could pan out. Even if the Leafs wind up simply picking a player at 20-something overall, it's another prospect to add to the pool.

4. It's not $8M in cap space, but hey, $6.8M in cap space is something. The Leafs do have that. Maybe they can take on a bad deal for further prospects or provide added value in a separate trade. Tyler Bozak for a salary dump and a decent prospect, anyone? It's not what we wanted, but it's something.

5. When Brian Burke started making trades, we praised the fact that, although we didn't like all the deals, at least they were for young players who weren't simply aging veterans in the sunset of their careers. We may not like all the deals that Dubas, Shanahan, and Hunter make, but at least they're for prospects. Suddenly, the Leafs have guys like Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen to add to a group of existing young(ish) talent. Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, and Morgan Rielly will hopefully be around to see a Cup run in Toronto. The cupboards are really no longer bare. They may not hold as much promise as we want, but the Leafs are also far from done acquiring good players via the draft - this year looks like another high pick.

Wrapping Up

OK, so the Kessel deal is awful. I hate it. Everyone should hate it. But everything is not lost.

Thanks for all the goals, Phil. Best of luck in Pittsburgh. I'll be happy to cheer you on until the Leafs make the playoffs themselves.