The Impact of Kessel
Many analysts credit the Toronto Maple Leafs‘Â run for a playoff spot to the goaltending of James Reimer. While he has no doubt been a key contributor, much of the credit has to be distributed to Phil Kessel, who is suddenly tied for the team lead in points and ranks first in goals with 27.
Yes, “poor Kessel,” the one who was picked last at the All-Star Game and had 25-goal man Alexander Ovechkin snap a photo of him as he sat alone and made the best of an awkward situation.
Whether it’s what happened in Carolina, the hunt for a playoff spot or simply Kessel turning itÂ on at the right time, much of the Leafs’ playoff hopes hinge on its 23-year-old sniper.
Kessel’s most productive hot streak came between December 28 and January 11, when he scored 4 goals andÂ 11 points in 8 games. He currently has 15 points and 7 goals in his last 11 games (5 goals and 10 points in his last five games) and eight goals in his last eight games. Oh, and fun fact: Joffrey Lupul was acquired 10 games ago. Coincedence? I think not.
While this sort of play is not unfamiliar territority for the streaky sniper, it’s his willingness to drive to the netÂ or even position himselfÂ close toÂ the netÂ (as seen on his goal against the Penguins last night) that is really impressive. This is no shot at Darryl Boyce or Joey Crabb, but Kessel is clearly benefitting from playing with suitable linemates in Tyler Bozak and Lupul. Bozak may not be the ideal center for Kessel, but no one can dispute the impact Lupul has had on the line. He’s getting in the dirty areas and opening space for his linemates with his size and puck control. While Lupul isn’t the biggest NHL player (6’1, 206 pounds) he can protect the puck well and it allows the line to cycle the puck more effectively and set-up plays instead of shooting from the perimeter.
With Bozak perhaps better suited as a third-line center, one must ponder how effective Kessel could become once he has aÂ number-one center and enters his prime. It’s easy to forget, but at 23 years old, Kessel has plenty of time to erase the criticism that he’ll remain a streaky scorer for the remainder of his career.
But what centers might be available this summer? In the free agent market, Brad Richards is the only number-one center on the market and the only chance Burke has to land the 30-year old is to throw a considerable amount of money (same ballpark as his current $7.8 million cap-hit) and sign himÂ to a lengthy term. Another option, according to Andy Strickland, is trading for 25-year old center, Paul Stastny.Â Any deal involving Stastny, however, would almost certainly send Nazem Kadri to the Avalanche. While Stastny could be aÂ better fit than Richards in Toronto, relinquishing assets on entry level contracts could prove problematic for Burke, so expect him to prioritizeÂ Richards at the top of theÂ list. The Marlies have also been sampling Kadri on the wing, which is still a possibility down the line at the NHL level.
While the Leafs’Â drive for a playoff spot has been exciting, whether they make it or not shouldn’t deter from the fact that Kessel will never cost the Leafs success, only be a key contributor moving forward. If this is the sort of play we can expect Kessel to deliver in the clutch, then a number-one center should become even more of a priority moving forward. Not just to make the playoffs, but to thrive inÂ them as well.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Kessel trade will never be horrific despite how the Bruins’ prospects pan out. Kessel is part of the culture change in Toronto and, at the very least, will be aÂ contributor to any Stanley Cup the Leafs should win. He should always be remembered, atÂ least for the time being, as aÂ symbol of hope in Toronto.
You stay classy, MLHS.
Follow me on Twitter @RonGuillet
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If Grabo scores 30, who's to say he can't be our first line center...
Although that being said we don't wanna break up mac, kule and grabo
That's why it might not be such a good idea to bring in Richards....he's kinda too old for this team....It's going to be a fun training camp in September....nice to see all the prospects BB has acquired......Have the cupboards ever been this stacked before??? not in my lifetime....born in '81
Has anyone seen a conversion of save %-tage from AHL to NHL. Just to get an idea about Gustavsson level.
IMO the best solution for next season would be to let Reimer and Gustavson split the games. Reimer is blocking goalie and Gustavsson an acrobatic goalie a combination that could work out nicely.
If the Leafs will have the same confidense in Gustavsson (again as they had in the beginning of the season) as they have in Reimer then it would be possible for RW to switch goalie to make it more difficult for the opponent to figur out now to shoot against the Leafs.
If we get this chant started to the point you can hear it on TV it will show the power of MLHS. Alec needs to get a group of guys on a bus go to a Sabres game and get this chant going. Would be priceless.
@ Tim Horton:
I would assume that Nashville has some sort of rights to him.....I simply think he just doesn't want to play in North America.....weird because he played juniour in Q.
Only travel in the States..sorry man =)
Why, outstanding warrants?
Ha Ha, not that I know of. I cover the entire States for my job and don't have any customers in Canada to justify a trip.
another link to a Hatton song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-8iZEukXrA&feature=related
I am Italian so no connection to Ricky but imagine the ACC or other arenas if Leaf fans started singing this about Reimer? It's better than the Habs and there crap.
Does anyone know if Alexander Radulov came to the NHL would he still be with Nashville or can he be a UFA... I don't really no too much about his situation why did he run to Russia? Either way he is absolutely destroying the KHL with 80 points in 54 games... Next closest has 65...