Why Phil Kessel Has To Be Traded Before The Draft

Phil Kessel Maple Leafs
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The report from Elliotte Friedman that the Toronto Maple Leafs were fielding calls on Phil Kessel during the NHL Combine was certainly not surprising. After all, with the Leafs rebuilding, it really doesn’t make sense for the Leafs to hang on to a player like Kessel.

There are not many better than Kessel at putting the puck in the net. In the past five seasons, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry have scored more than the 151 goals that Kessel has scored. Sure, this past season might have been a down year for him, but that’s how it was for pretty much everyone wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. So there should be more than a few teams interested in bringing him to their team.

So what do the Leafs do? Friedman mentioned that if a trade were to happen, it wouldn’t happen for a couple of weeks. Well, it just so happens that we are just over a couple of weeks until the 2015 NHL Draft.

It’s pretty much a sure thing that the Leafs want a first round pick in the package they get for Kessel. It would be easier to accomplish that if they make a deal in the coming weeks to acquire a 2015 draft pick. Teams know what they could get at their position in the draft this year. If a team wants to win sooner rather than later and think they might be one or two pieces away from being a playoff contender, Kessel might be worth parting with that pick.

If the Leafs are patient, they might find that teams are not willing to part with their 2016 first round pick so easily. Why? It’s the factor of the unknown. If there’s a lesson to be learned in trading picks that are a year or two away, Toronto learned it in acquiring Kessel. They gave up two first round picks, as well as a second, for a player that they thought would get them into the playoffs almost single-handedly. Those two first-rounders ended up being a second overall pick (Tyler Seguin, 2010) and a ninth overall pick (Dougie Hamilton, 2011).

With a player like Auston Matthews available in 2016, as well many other high-end prospects, teams should be weary about giving up a pick if they don’t know where it will end up. It cost the Leafs and it could cost whatever team that chooses to trade for Kessel.

Kessel is still a valuable asset to the Leafs. However, that asset will diminish as soon as the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft is over. Now, it could go back up around the Trade Deadline and again after the 2016 Draft Lottery. If the Leafs want to get a good return for their best player, they need to make the move as soon as possible. With the year he had this season, he’ll probably be motivated to bounce back next season. That could help wreck the Leafs’ own chances of getting a top pick in 2016. It’s best that he bounces back with another franchise.

If Kessel is not traded by the Leafs before or at the 2015 NHL Draft, fans should be disappointed.