Toronto Maple Leafs trump free-agency day by dealing Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh … – National Post http://t.co/dgEL8pqvqV
— TM Leafs Tweet (@TMLeafsTweet) July 5, 2015
“Phil Kessel has been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins” This was the headline that blared across the hockey universe last Wednesday. The Toronto Maple Leafs traded away the prolific-scoring Kessel, and their hopes of contending for a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, the Penguins are poised to contend immediately, having added what may be the key they need to contend for the Cup.
The new overtime rules in the NHL call for three-on-three play. Do you think Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel will make a strong three for the Pens? Absolutely they will.
How about having Crosby, Malkin and Kessel in some form or fashion on the top two lines for Pittsburgh? Even Kessel haters – and there are more than a few out there – have to admit that adding him to an already impressive core will make the Penguins better, and better right now. Love Kessel or hate him, there is no question that he can score.
It’s not as if general manager Jim Rutherford added a player that just might make the team good. The Penguins are already good. Names like Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang are on the A-list of anyone who seriously knows good players.
The injury problems to Letang and Olli Maatta notwithstanding, if this team can stay healthy, they will be a monster in the Eastern Conference.
Cue the fat jokes
I’ve been intrigued for some time with the love-hate relationship Leafs fans had with Kessel. He is not built like your average NHL superstar. He looks out of shape. He likes to eat hot dogs. So it’s only natural that some less than brilliant observers of the game are going to lob some fat-smack Kessel’s way.
My colleague James Tanner wrote a fantastic retort yesterday at the Hockey Buzz. Tanner also covers the Leafs for The Hockey Writers, and said,
“People make fat jokes, they make say he’s out of shape, but it’s all B.S: Kessel is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, he actually is in great physical condition.”
The sad truth is that Kessel was one of the only consistently positive parts in the past six years of the debacle known as the Maple Leafs hockey team.
— SI NHL (@SI_NHL) July 5, 2015
In an article in the Toronto Sun that embodies the moronic vitriol that many who are intimate with the Leafs have, Steve Simmons had this to say,
“They had to move Kessel out…When you have an illness, you must get rid of the poison. The Leafs did that on Wednesday. They treated their own infection — the Penguins playing the part of antibiotic. It doesn’t matter what they got for Kessel. What matters is he’s gone.”
Wow. Those are strong words that I believe Simmons may end up eating.
Demetrios Fragopoulos wrote a great piece at Dobber Sports. In it he describes the ridiculous placing of blame on Kessel for the inability of Toronto to win. Fragopoulos writes,
“Brendan Shanahan is correct when he says that the team needs to change, but it is not because Kessel is a locker-room poison. It is because they can’t assemble a cast of teammates (by trade or free agency) that can play with him.”
What does management do when they can’t find answers? They make irrational moves like trading a guy who just scored 40 goals for you.
Ross Bonander also covers the Leafs for The Hockey Writers. I love this summation on Simmons’ comments about Kessel,
“Simmons’ explosive tirade against an athlete is not just juvenile, it’s confounding.”
I agree, but am willing to try to understand the passion Leafs fans have for their team. I just don’t think Kessel is to blame for their team’s woes.
* Read Ross’ article “Phil Kessel, Toronto’s Resected Tumor” *
I believe that the Penguins will be in a strong position to make a deep playoff run this coming season, provided they stay healthy. I also believe that the Leafs have lengthened the time it will take to get back to being a playoff-caliber team by trading Kessel.
“It’s also a pretty stunning deal for Toronto. They not only traded their best player and biggest trade chip and didn’t get any of Pittsburgh’s top young defensemen back in the deal, but also because they are retaining a significant portion of salary and taking one of Pittsburgh’s bad contracts back in return.”
Sorry Leafs fans, I just don’t see this playing out well for you in the near-term. Surely Mike Babcock will bring his extraordinary coaching ability and system to your team, and the long-term future should be bright. But, the Pens just got stronger overnight, and the Leafs, well, they stayed the Leafs.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.