Why Phil Kessel Is Exactly What the Habs Need

As usual, ’tis the season for discussing potential trade targets.  If last year’s trade deadline proves anything, it’s that no one has a clue about how things will play out!  But, it’s still fun to speculate. And since I spend 60% of my day thinking about potential trade scenarios, I figured I’d write about the only trade target that matters: Phil Kessel.

What’s REALLY Wrong In The “6”

Phil Kessel is an offensive wizard.  At the same time, it is crucial to remember that his wizardry is confined to the offensive zone.  That’s why I’m always confused about the criticism he gets in Toronto.  I think part of the issue is that the team/fans have misguided expectations for Kessel.  Did they not get the memo?  He scores goals.  That’s it.  No, literally, that’s it.  Since the start of the 2011-12 season Kessel ranks third in the NHL in points, fifth in goals and ninth in assists.  He is an offensive juggernaut.  He’s not going to backcheck, kill penalties, or generally care at all about defense.  He’s not a vocal leader, a quiet leader, or any type of leader for that matter.  He just scores goals.  And if you ask me, he is one of the only guys doing what he was hired to do.  But every failing organization needs their whipping boy, and it’s easy to focus on the guy making $8M a year.

What Would Montreal Have To Give Up

You can bet that Toronto, a team destined for a rebuild, would be looking for a combination of young roster players, top prospects, and draft picks.  Here is a list of assets I would make available to Toronto:

Roster Players

Lars Eller:  He is an established player with good skills.  He has proved that he can be a shutdown player, which every team needs.  However, during his time in Montreal, he has also shown flashes of offensive brilliance (Exhibit 1. Last Year’s Playoffs).  Perhaps, with more opportunities on the top two lines and some significant PP time, his offensive numbers would be much more appealing.  He is a big hockey player that can skate as well as play with both power and finesse, and those skills are always in demand.  In Montreal, with the sudden emergence of Jacob De La Rose (albeit, over a very small sample size), as well as the always steady two-way play of Tomas Plekanec, perhaps Marc Bergevin and associates see some overlap in skill sets at the centre position.  Plus, at some point, they’ll need to move Alex Galchenyuk to his natural position.

David Desharnais:  He has established himself as an NHL calibre player.  I’m not sure that he would be a first line centre on many other teams, but he provides great value for his salary.  I doubt Toronto would have any interest in a small centre, but, again, Montreal needs to create an opening for Galchenyuk at centre, so it might be worth throwing out some feelers.

David Desharnais Montreal Canadiens
David Desharnais (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Alexei Emelin:  He provides a physical element on the back end and, for the most part, plays a steady, responsible game.  He seems to always elevate his play against Boston, which is a bonus! The biggest deterrent will be his $4.1M salary, which is extremely expensive for a third pairing defensemen.  With Jarred Tinordi, a younger, bigger, faster defensemen, waiting in the wings, Emelin is expendable.

 

Prospects

The group of prospects that I would make available include: Michael Bournival, Christian Thomas, Martin Reway, Greg Pateryn, Sven Andrighetto, Zach Fucale.

None of the above prospects bring anything unique to the table.  All the forwards fit a similar mould: fast, skilled, small.  Pateryn hasn’t been able to find his way onto the big club, even though they’ve had a need for defensemen in the last several years.  In fact, Nathan Beaulieu is two years younger and has developed much faster.  I’ve listed Fucale because he holds more trade value than Dustin Tokarski at this stage.  Let’s face it, barring a major injury or Patrick Roy like catastrophe, Carey Price is going to be the goalie for the next decade (vigorously knocking on wood).

Prospects that I wouldn’t make available include: Jarred Tinordi, Jacob De La Rose, Nikita Scherbak, Charles Hudon, Michael McCarron.

These prospects have too much upside to give up in any deal.  Tinordi is a big, physical, smooth skating defenseman, which is exactly what the Habs need.  De La Rose, at 19, has basically stolen a roster spot and relegated Lars Eller to the wing.  Scherbak, Hudon, and McCarron are too young and hold too much potential to deal away this early.

 

Draft Picks

You’re not going to get Phil Kessel without including at least one first round pick.  However, looking at how young the current roster is, plus the stable of prospects that are coming up the ranks, giving up a pick or two should be a little easier to swallow.

 

Why Would MB Do This?

So, why would MB ever pull off a move like this?  Because, a player like Phil Kessel rarely becomes available and when it does happen, you need to consider making a play.  Also, because he represents everything that this team is currently missing.  More than anything, the Habs need a proven goal scorer.  With the current defense corps playing so well in front of the best goalie in the world, the Habs rank first in the league in goals allowed per game (2.21 goals allowed/game).  However, they continue to struggle putting pucks in the net (2.55 goals scored/game).  It doesn’t take a genius to see that a goal difference of +0.34 makes for a lot of close games.

Aside from Pacioretty (who has been lights out), the team has been struggling to score.  The current second line of Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Eller doesn’t exactly strike fear into opposing defenses.  However, you swap Eller for Kessel and suddenly things are much different.  Simply put, a Pacioretty-Kessel one-two combo would be lethal.

Plus, Phil would love it in Montreal.  Firstly, he would only be expected to score goals.  And as long as he did that, no one would bother him.  The solid two-way

Phil Kessel Maple Leafs
There’s no doubting what Phil Kessel could bring to the Islanders, but would it be worth it for Garth Snow to bring in such a figure into New York’s dressing room? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

play of his teammates, plus the steady support from the defensemen behind him, and the play of Carey Price would mask any of his defensive shortcomings.  Secondly, he doesn’t have to be a leader on this team.  He would enter a veteran team that is a close knit group and has an established hierarchy.  According to PK Subban, he is a very likeable guy, and, based on the number of his teammates and peers that have come to his defense in recent weeks, I think he gets along well with others.  This leads me to think that Ron Wilson’s “two weeks on, two weeks off” comment might be a little misleading.  Further, sharing the spotlight with Subban, Price, and Pacioretty would allow him to operate under less scrutiny.  Granted, the Montreal market can be harsh if you don’t put up, but he should find himself shielded from many of the responsibilities he faced in Toronto.  Being part of an organized, well run team like Montreal, from Jeff Molson, to MB, down to Therrien and the players will help.

In conclusion, if I was to play cupid, I think Kessel and the Habs make a perfect match.  Perhaps, Valentine’s Day will come on March 2 in Montreal.