Noon Mashup: Responding to the “Trade Kessel” lunacy

Noon Mashup: Responding to the “Trade Kessel” lunacy

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Photo: Bridget Samuels/Toronto Life

Yesterday, the always attention-seeking Damien Cox published his weekly feature with the Star. To summarize, he stated that Phil Kessel should be traded while his value is high, and not doing so would be yet another mistake by Brian Burke.

Cox used numerous illogical and irrelevant points to back up his argument. Like so many times before, his desire for publicity far outweighed his wit. This particular piece baffled me so much that I had to commit an entire article to discussing his lacklustre and poorly executed analysis. Maybe it doesn’t deserve the time of day, but as a magnification of too many people’s out-of-touch expectations on who Kessel is or should be as a player, it struck a nerve.

I’ll start with the following statement:

Phil Kessel should not be traded, and doing so would be a monumental mistake by Brian Burke.

In his article, Cox noted, “The fit with the Leafs isn’t there. He’s no leader on a team still developing internal leadership. He’s not combative or a fierce adversary. He doesn’t bring size to the equation or pluck or two-way excellence”. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but did anyone think even a dollar of Kessel’s contract goes towards getting a leader and defensive ace?

It was known from the start of his tenure in Toronto that Kessel would never be a great two-way contributor, rather an offensive dynamo whose scoring skill would compensate for his lack of defensive awareness.  This is not an unheard of concept. If you can get a player who can score 100 goals in just over 200 games – all by the age of 24 – you take the trade off. It’s not impossible to properly manage a player of this ilk to help him best succeed offensively while mitigating his defensive deficiencies; two of the best players in the game, the Sedin twins, get an offensive zone start bias of nearly 80%. This was not something Ron Wilson paid much attention to when he perhaps should’ve been, as he leaned on Lupul and Kessel heavily for ice time and did not seem to hesitate with putting them out anywhere on the ice despite the obvious defensive problems, but you can bet it’s something Carlyle will be more attentive towards. Connecting that Carlyle is a defensive coach with Kessel isn’t a two-way player and concluding it can’t work out here is just horribly, black-and-white simplistic.

Cox goes onto say, “Well, with the club having fallen into a deep crevice that already threatens to affect next year, as new coach Randy Carlyle is already finding his record stained by this troop of players, Burke has now fallen upon decision time for his signature player”. Changes are undoubtedly warranted after this season’s collapse. However, trading your 24-year-old 35+ goal scorer doesn’t really ever make sense, even in a scored earth, tear-it-down rebuild scenario (which is not what Burke is going to do, but hypothetically). That unless we’re shooting for 2025 as our big turnaround year.

Lost in the losing streak of February is a 6-1-1 stretch in January and a 9-3-1 start in October. Don’t those count for anything? The Leafs were never mistaken for an Eastern Conference powerhouse – a seventh or eighth seed was always what they’d be competing for. The stretch of 15-4-2 didn’t put them on even playing ground with the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers, and the stretch of 2-13-2 doesn’t put them on the same island as Columbus, Edmonton, or Montreal. They’re still a middling team with an unfinished core of players. That should – and still will be – the mindset heading into the off-season.

Cox then added, “Philadelphia made enormous double digit-year commitments to captain Mike Richards and winger Jeff Carter, then decided after the paint was barely dry on those contracts to trade both players. GM Paul Holmgren simply decided he couldn’t win with that twosome and bailed”. Here, DamoSpin hits an all new high on the delusion scale.

I recall at the time of the shakeup in Philadelphia, Paul Holmgren went on record saying he wanted the team to go in a different direction with new leadership. The leadership group he was shifting towards included Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk, and Kimmo Timonen. Unfortunately, the Leafs do not have the luxury of that type of elite depth. It’s not like we can ditch Kessel and upgrade on him from within like the Flyers did with Giroux. Also, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were dressing room influences and team leaders – perhaps for the worst. It’s a totally off comparison.

These are just a few points, and they’re not the only reasons Kessel shouldn’t be traded. One can look at how he’s being misused in Toronto and understand how the Leafs can position him better for success with just some lineup adjustments – Kessel has started near 50% of his shifts in the defensive zone.

This just may be a wild assumption, but I’d like to believe Kessel’s inadequate defensive play wouldn’t be nearly noticed as much if his offensive talents were being better used. What’s the benefit of starting a player like Kessel in the defensive zone most of the time? This is surely something Carlyle will change – Kessel should be receiving as high of an ozone start bias as workable within 18 or so minutes of ice time.

Further to the point, they’ve paired him with an inadequate top line center. Tyler Bozak has served the role as best he can, and deserves credit for that, but he is not the ideal center for Phil Kessel. He isn’t overly physical and doesn’t compensate for Kessel’s defensive shortcomings enough. For the Leafs to receive maximum production from the Thrill, a two way, playmaking center with size is their best option. The Leafs in essence need someone who can properly compensate defensively and along the boards for Kessel, while still having the ability to keep up with Phil’s talent.

I don’t want to harp on the Leafs for completely misusing Kessel – because they’re not. He wouldn’t be on pace for a 40 goal season if they were. However, the notion that they should trade him is absurd, because the small nuisances with him can be fixed relatively easily enough – much easier than trying to replace his production once he’s gone.

Twitter: @degratesports

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- Feschuk from the Star makes the paper a little more readable after they published the garbage Cox produced yesterday

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