Brent Burns Better & Cheaper Than Phil Kessel

Leafs Asking Too Much for Phil Kessel?

NHL Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Hockey
Phil Kessel could be just one of a handful of big names that find themselves on new teams. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto Maple Leafs star right-winger Phil Kessel has been the center of numerous trade rumors and armchair GM proposals in recent weeks. While the Leafs would be wise to move Kessel, other teams would be wise to look elsewhere. He just isn’t worth the cost. According to The Hockey News, some teams have balked at the high asking price for Kessel.

That said, the Wisconsin native is one of the top scorers in the league — and he plays on an awful team. Last season’s “disappointing” (actually still pretty damn good) player card stats (25 goals, 61 points) came on an historically bad Leafs team. Therefore, sound logic suggests Kessel could go for over 40 goals and 80-plus points on a stronger team with an elite center.

However, an $8 million cap hit for five seven more seasons is a lot of salary to commit to one player. If the Leafs are asking teams to take on all of Kessel’s salary and give up a roster player, first round pick and a prospect, well, I think they are nuts. Kessel is a great scorer, but that is just too much in the way of assets/money to give up for a scoring winger. Maybe I would give that up for Evgeni Malkin, more valuable player as a center that scores at over a point-per-game pace, but even then, that’s just a maybe.

Brent Burns is a Better Option

If I’m one of the 28 teams not named the Leafs or the Sharks, I would go after current Sharks defenseman Brent Burns to be my top-line right winger. If a team is looking to slot in a No. 1 right wing, Burns is arguably better than Kessel and comes at a cheaper $5.76 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

While reverted back to a defenseman this past season, Burns proved to be one of the most dominant even-strength scoring forwards in the league in 1.3 seasons as a forward from mid 2013 through the end of the 2013-14 season. As you can see here on Fear the Fin’s chart, Burns as a right wing scored more five-on-five goals per 60 minutes of ice time than Kessel did. Their scoring numbers overall at even strength are almost identical.

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Brent Burns net front as a forward is tough to handle (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Yet with Burns, teams get arguably the best power forward in the league outside of Alex Ovechkin. Burns is a monster at 6 feet 5 inches, 230 pounds, with an insane reach and patented butt checks. He is a beast on the forecheck, breaking up plays with big hits and that long stick reach. Kessel is a tremendous scorer on the rush, but he doesn’t bring the intangibles and board play that Burns brings to the table.

Kessel, Burns, Crosby & World Championships

The player card stats favor Kessel, who is a five-time 30 goal scorer twice eclipsing 80 points, but you have to look closer at Burns’ point totals. A lot of his career has been played on the blue line, plus, in his full year at forward in 2013-14, he rarely played on the Sharks’ top power-play unit. If you combine Burns’ points from even strength as a forward in 2013-14 (69 games) with his power-play points on the top unit this past season (82 games), you get 27 goals and 61 points.  Add in a few more points since Burns missed 13 games in 2013-14 and the forward scores about 30 goals and 65-70 points.

If you think this is overestimating Burns’ possible production as a forward, only Sidney Crosby had a higher points per 60 in 2013 of forwards playing over 300 minutes. Some out there wonder why pundits like myself and Fear the Fin’s “The Neutral” talk so much about Burns being a forward. Well, when Burns’ production is among the top-10 scorers in the league at even strength as a forward, and he has noticeable issues defending his own zone as a defenseman, how can you not understand how we feel?

Burns Sharks
As a defenseman Burns has problems sorting out opposing rushes. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Burns was rated as the best defenseman at the Worlds this past spring. But since when is being named the best defenseman at the World Championships been a big deal? Can anyone name the 2013 or 2014 winners of that “award” off the top of your head? Doubtful. Burns can be a solid top-four defenseman but teams can find better defensively sound options to fill that role. Top-tier power forwards who can score with the best goal scorers in the game, but also dominate the game physically, are few and far between.

If a team wants to trade for a dominant right winger, Burns has a cheaper salary and would cost less in assets than Kessel for comparable and possibly even better production.