Friday, September 18, 2009

Maple Leafs finally land Phil Kessel

The media is reporting that the trade between the Leafs and the Bruins for Phil Kessel has been consummated. The Leafs are shipping the 2010 first round pick, the 2011 first round pick and the 2010 2nd round pick. It's a deal Peter Chiarelli absolutely did not want to make. There is no way he wanted to see Kessel playing for a divisional rival but none of the other bidders were offering as much as Brian Burke. In addition, by the end of the weekend Burke was going to give Kessel an offer sheet that would likely have been front end loaded and therefore difficult for Boston to match.

Kessel is still recovering from shoulder surgery so we won't be seeing him in a Leaf jersey until November. The debate will now begin as to whether the Leafs paid to much to land Kessel. Certainly the price was very high. I know some people will be comparing this deal with all those other deals involving Leaf draft picks. I still remember when the Leafs picked up Tom Kurvers from the Devils for a first round pick. The Leafs collapsed the following season and that pick turned out to be Scott Niedermayer. But this trade is different. Instead of dealing picks for a veteran on the downside of his career, the Leafs have picked up a 21 year old who is still a few years from his prime.

The college free agent signings this summer allowed this trade to happen and I expect more signings this coming summer. The Leafs now have prospects that didn't come out of the draft and created some flexibility. Nashville was the other leading contender but they were offering a mix of prospects along with the NHL rights to Alexander Radulov. No one knows when Radulov will return to the NHL if at all.

The other consideration is that Kessel was a 5th pick and during his draft year was at one point considered for the first pick overall. The jury is still out whether he will be a franchise player but if the 2010 and 2011 picks are in the middle of the round, they won't be players as good as Kessel. However, if the Leafs crash and burn then the will be much angst in Hogtown.

At 21, Kessel finished 12th in the NHL last season in goals scored, ahead of Malkin, Iginla, Datsyuk and Crosby while playing 10 fewer games than most of these players. There are some concerns about his attitude but both Burke and Ron Wilson are very familiar with Kessel through Team USA and do not seem to have any concerns.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that this one finally works out.