Leafs Look Done; Should Trade Kessel

The Leafs are at a point in their history where they have made the Playoffs once in a decade.

They are among the league’s worst possession teams and they allow the most shots of anyone except Buffalo.

They have screwed themselves by allotting massive long-term contracts to Lupul, Clarkson, Phaneuf (who’s deal I don’t actually mind) and Bozak.

They are on the verge of possibly losing one or more of pending free agents Bernier, Franson and Kadri – three of the main players they should be building around.

Their coach has not been able adjust to the problems the team consistently has, and despite turning over 1/3 of the roster, the same exact problems persist.

Both the coach and GM  are thought to be “lame ducks,” around the league and have been openly referred to as such on such shows as Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon.

The first line of JVR-Kessel-Bozak is so ineffective defensively that despite scoring at a torrid pace, the line is, on most nights, a detriment to the team overall.

The fact is, that this team is built around a core that seems to have something wrong with it. and little chance of enough internal improvement to make continuing down the current path feasible, Instead of barreling on in the direction that has not been working, and in light of the new Shanahan-Dubas-Hunter dynamic, perhaps it’s time to make a significant alteration in the direction of the franchise.  I just don’t really see a way – outside of mortgaging the future for players that still might not help enough – that this team can be competitive on a Stanley Cup level. Beyond that, their cap is a mess and even if they wanted to move Rielly, Nylander  or future draft picks to augment what is – at best – a severely dubious core, they would be hard pressed to do so because of the abjectly horrible salary cap situation.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans
Phil Kessel  (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Obvious Solution:

The way to fix this might initially hurt, but it’s fairly obvious upon reflection: They must trade Phil Kessel.

Phil Kessel is an amazing hockey player, he’s a great guy. I don’t think he’s fat, I don’t care how much he trains and I don’t have one single bad thing to say about him. Him and Phaneuf are my favorite Leafs since Sundin and Kaberle, but the Leafs are in a situation where they have quite a few young players worth being excited about (Rielly, Gardiner, Kadri, Percy, Nylander, Holland, Franson, JVR, Bernier) but no real way to keep them together under current restraints and even if they could, the team is missing the elite centerpiece that would elevate them from a mediocre to an outstanding prospect collection. In light of that, something must be done.

With these players in the fold, and no real way to win with the team as it is currently constructed, a Kessel trade makes sense. You could get a lot for him and relieve yourself of salary cap troubles at the same time.  Also, you could then feel free to try to move Bozak, Phaneuf, Clarkson, Lupul,  Polak, Robidas, and Reimer and happily sink to the bottom of the standings where you can improve your odds of winning the draft lottery and at worst, add someone who can be something approximating a franchise player.

At this point, if the Leafs were to give up on the season, they would be sacrificing – at best – a single playoff round (and  advanced stats tell us they are highly unlikely to hold off the Panthers and Bruins for the final Playoff spot anyways) and in return, they would set themselves up to be a sustainably competitive team with a great set of prospects and a manageable salary cap.

The way for the Leafs to finally be successful is to stop taking short-cuts and to bite the bullet for once. They’ve floundered their way to a pathetic ten seasons with one Playoff appearance and it’s time to admit the salary cap prevents them from building a team the way they have been trying to since Brian Burke first took over.

I loved Burke. I love Kessel and I love Phaneuf, but man, it isn’t working and it isn’t going to work. The Leafs should trade Kessel for a package of prospects and picks and then move forward in an environment that fosters growth and patience.



40 thoughts on “Leafs Look Done; Should Trade Kessel”

  1. Team Kessel up with Seguin in Dallas and make that trade come full circle, plus they’re not too keen on playing defence down there, even though the Stars can be fun to watch.

  2. Look it is easy if the Leafs are really peeving you off. Don’t support them. Like I mean really desert the Leafs. I have not watched a leaf game in almost 2 years on tv, not bought leaf apparel in forever and pass up leafs gold tickets when offered at the office. Honestly, I realized 2 things while away from the Leafs: there is life outside of hockey and Komorov left the team last year. Lastly, I don’t miss it at all.

  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve been saying for years that it’s time to blow up everything, and keep minimal guys from current roster. You’ve already been average for many many years, and the fans keep coming back. Why not finish near the bottom for 3-4 years, draft smart, and develop.

  4. I disagree with your last paragraph. That seems to be *all* the Leafs do. I was 5 years old the last time they won the Cup, I’ve followed them on and off since then, and it seems to me that, historically, they’ve always relied on draft prospects to get them out of their slumps. It doesn’t work. Why is it other teams can make great trades but the Leafs never can, or when they do, the player doesn’t perform as well? I once read they are coach-heavy. Get rid of most of the coaches, then. Let them play. Stop the micromanagement – that kills any motivation. Remember when Randy Carlyle first started with the team? He was a breath of fresh air. This season it seems he has no control – they either win big or lose big. I would say no more relying on prospects, end micromanagement, give some of the power to the players (see how the Habs determine plays with one another while on the ice? Brilliant.), then we would see a vast improvement.

  5. Now I see why you are a writer and not a GM. They should never have traded for Kessel to begin with. They gave away far too much. Over paid a one way player. As for Phaneuf. He is as useless. They kept ragging on how bad Kadri was at giving away the puck. Meanwhile Phaneuf was giving away the puck 3 or more times a game. The put Kadri in the press box ans awarded Phaneuf a hefty contract that he doesn’t deserve and no other team would think of picking up. They need to get a coach that known how to put lines together. Last week. I think it was the wild game. The puck was in the leafs zone. Meanwhile, Kessel was at center ice and Bozak was at the wild’s blue line.They need to put a defensive forward on that line like Kadri. He also plays well with kessel. The leafs have to stop over paying the deadwood, They need more 2 way players. The way the leafs hand out contracts. Most of the players will not be traded unless the leafs are stuck paying part of their contract. The best 2 players on the team are the goalies, but, when you get 40+ shots against almost every game. They are burnt out by the halfway part of the season.

  6. Package bozak, Clarkson, Polak and Gardiner for a #1 D man and 2 way center, Dave Boland was great when he played for Toronto, except he got injuried. Bozak from a defensive perspective is pretty brutal now, and agree that JVR needs to play 2 way hockey too.

    • No one is going to go near Clarkson’s contract. He can be traded only if the Leafs eat part of his salary. Moreover, what makes you think that any GM in his right mind would give up a top D and a solid centreman for that package? Good way for an opposing GM to get himself fired….

  7. Not a Kessel fan because of his play away from the puck and not sure they would get that much for him. Other teams scout the Leafs and see how lazy he is.

  8. The best thing that could happen is a season ending injury to Hadaneuf. But then he doesn’t play harda neuf to cause one. And why would you trade your only offence when you got no defence.

  9. I agree with Bruce, there is an intrinsic lack of hockey DNA on the team. Who are the ‘character’ players, the Wendels, the Sittlers, the Tuckers, the Sundins; those who go out and sweat, bleed and spit BLUE? Name me one! Well, Komorov, maybe – on a good night. Big Buff mowed them all down last night and there wasn’t even a whimper. “Lets go home,” was heard meakly on the ice and in the corridor, “we’re pooped.” You’re not pooped – you shat yourselves!

  10. Does he have a NTC? CBJ have all of Horton’s salary money/cap space to spend…however, with that long/high salary commitment you probably just get a 1st rounder for him. Leafs shouldn’t be realistically looking at too much more than that for unloading that contract.

  11. I think this article is right on many points. (1) Phil Kessel is great (2) the Leafs have some young talent they need to keep (3) the Leafs have a hellacious salary cap problem (4) the Leafs are not likely to make the playoffs this year (5) this team ain’t working (6) if the Leafs can get a good haul for Kessel, trading him makes sense.

    The Leafs need a better defensive core and some center men. That is a tall order in the NHL. If you want to buy something expensive, you have to pay up. Getting rid of Kessel hurts – a lot – but, if the return is right, such as 2 first round picks and 2 strong prospects, then maybe it is time to make the move.

    • Guess what? Sports is a business. It’s about making profit. However it is a fun way to make a lot of money especially when it involves hockey fans in Toronto. How’s a new owner going to change anything? You don’t think that person or corporation will have the objective of making money? And a lot of it? I would if I were spending $xxx bijilion to buy the Leafs, Raptors and that football team.

      • Sport is also winning. Winning should be the number one objective. You are right. I think only fans can stop them thinking only business. They should stop buying jerseys and stop watching games on tv and onsite.

  12. Saw Kessel at Jets last night. Zeroed in on him on every on ice shift. On a every Leafs turn over he was the last man back.Little or no effort to back check. Dump him while he has some value.

  13. Leafs fans – I wouldn’t worry very much about my Boston Bruins. Our brain trust (Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Can Neely) trade a give away our skilled finesse players (like Kessel) and now they are pissed we can’t score goals – especially in shootouts which are a waste of time in the regular season.

    Keep Kessel but you need a diversified set of players with some for containing the opposition. The great Montreal teams had a place for a Phil Kessel like player….remember GuyLeFleur!

  14. Can’t see how anyone would rate Phaneuf as one of their two favorite Leafs. The guy is way over-rated, doesn’t come through when the going is tough, gives up on far too many plays, makes way too many stupid mistakes, and hasn’t brought leadership in the way guys like Toewes in Chicago, Brown in L.A., etc. bring.

    Though I grew up in Detroit (and yes, suffered through years of mediocrity until the team got new ownership), I also played a lot of hockey in Toronto and have always been pulling for the Leafs to have a good team, but the team is so lacking in focus and discipline and leadership that it is hard to pull for them, and the Randy C. style of bash-em up hockey is a dinosaur. The game is now about speed, strategy, puck control, and smarts, and not about how many hits you can make in a game. The Leafs have plenty of guys with the potential to play today’s game but they seem stuck.


    • I totally agree with your assessment of Phaneuf. He’s living on his past history. Way to slow now and the nickname Pylon is a perfect match! You hardly ever see him hit hard like before. The only good thing I can say about him is that he has a decent shot on the power play.
      The main problem I see with the Leafs is the character of the players. They’re not willing to put the effort in every game. Very few players on the team are willing to work hard in the corners to dig the puck out. They’re afraid of going into the corners first, in order to avoid a check. The defencemen never take the offensive player completely out of the play by pinning him to the boards. You see all kinds of stick checks but no body checks. Where is Bobby Baun when you need him! : )
      Yes I am still a Leaf fan, but facts are facts. I’m 65 years old and would like to see a Leaf Stanley Cup before I pass on. I know that last line is a perfect setup for Leaf haters but I’ve learned to laugh at myself as I mature, so I can take the Leaf jokes. lol

  15. It’s easy to say trade this guy or that guy but unless you have cap room it’s impossible to do unless you take back the same in salary.I admit that the Leafs have overpaid some of their players as every GM does at free agency.Clarkson and Phaneuf for starters.Yes Kessel cannot play defense.He’s not being paid to play it.He is 8th in scoring ahead of the mighty Ovechkin whom I don’t hear anybody wanting to trade.Let’s not forget this is the same bunch that a couple of weeks ago were 8-1-1. Do they need to make a move? Probably but not the guy who can score.

  16. If you are saying they should trade Kessel then Phaneuf should be the next out of town, with Lupul also on the move.

  17. I agree, leafs have no chance and I as a leafs fan would rather have a top 5 pick instead of making it to the first round and being eliminated

  18. Trade will be worth it only if they get 2-3 quality prospects and/or 2-3 draft picks. Most likely interested parties? A team looking to win now missing one piece to complete the puzzle.
    Oh, and by the way, Mr. Tanner, In English we say “He and Phaneuf”, not “Him and Phaneuf”.

  19. It all makes sense, James. Especially if you (Leaf fans) are willing to look at the situation without rose colored glasses on and not take offence when someone suggests such a change.

  20. hmm interesting article for sure ! My little brother is a Leafs fan and I wish I could get him to read this, but he’s too into Phil Kessel’s offense to understand the defensive liabilities that exist with his game and the way he plays.

  21. You’ve finally wrote something I agree with and have been saying for 2 years….the Leafs need to trade Kessel. Unlike you, I think Kessel is a poison to the team. Boston knew it ; that’s why they traded away a player with so much talent. You can’t build a team around a player like Kessel. A player that openly brags about how little he skates in the off-season. A player who doesn’t work out and shows up over-weight. A true super star and leader works his ass off hoping to make himself and his team better. You can’t have young guys coming up witnessing his behaviour and expect them to do any more than they need to. The Leafs should have moved him 2 years ago instead of waiting and signing him to his 8 year contract.

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