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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 the big picture, Jonas Gustavsson has had his best NHL season yet. When given opportunity, heâ€™s usually excelled and shown the potential for stardom. He’s also battled inconsistency issues, for the exact same reason â€“ the opportunity wasnâ€™t enough. Many will often point to Jonas as being the victim of his own demise here in Toronto. I call foul. The notion that itâ€™s Jonasâ€™ own fault he wonâ€™t receive a contract extension is absurd. I wouldn’t even put it on Ron Wilson more than the simple fact that Gustavsson was in an unfavourable situation this season. He was finally performing to his capability, but at the wrong time.
Despite his concussion, James Reimer was always the teamâ€™s number one goaltender. Thatâ€™s why he received the majority of the starts in December, despite his inconsistencies and Gustavssonâ€™s success. At the time, the coaches were trying to get Reimer into a groove, which was hypothetically the beneficial move long-term. He was under contract for two more years, and starting Gustavsson over him would have only stalled the 24 year old Reimerâ€™s development. There was no denying that Gustavsson had been better. A 92.2 SP in games leading up to Reimerâ€™s return and his three December starts far exceeded Jamesâ€™ number of 87.3 in the same time frame. It was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For that, I donâ€™t blame anyone. Starting Reimer was undoubtedly the logical move.
Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
In addition to the trade speculation, adÂ nauseamÂ analysis of what could happen is the natural side effect when the trade deadline nears. Itâ€™s never a matter of hearing of a certain rumor, then waiting to see how everything unfolds. In fact, during this silly part of the season we usually analyze a trades that never comes to fruition more than those that actually become reality. Thatâ€™s the beauty of the deadline. We can analyze and discuss all we want because the speculation and rumors are endless.
Time to touch on the recent swirl of Rick Nash speculation. First, a little background according to what Iâ€™ve heard and read â€“ Nash had supposedly become available in Columbus in late-January. All still speculation, general manager Scott Howson eventually broke the ice, stating that heâ€™s â€˜listeningâ€™. Going in accordance with immediate speculation, Toronto was reportedly interested, and now we have numerous, probably unnecessary analyses of a possible move here.
The 2013 Winter Classic was finally announced yesterday, ending a few monthsâ€™ worth of speculation that Toronto would square off against old rival Detroit at the Big House in Michigan. The event was announced with managersâ€™ Burke and Holland on hand, among others â€“ if their banter was any indication, the 24/7 feature should be awesome.
In addition to the game on the first day of 2013, the two teamâ€™s AHL affiliates will partake at their own outdoor game in a packed schedule over at the Tigersâ€™ Comerica Park. Also on the schedule is back-to-back CHL games, as well as the Leafs â€“ Wings alumni game.
Photo: Chris Young/The Canadian Press
Brian Burke was harshly scrutinized for the now infamous Phil Kessel swap. Back then, he gave up three potential NHLers for a single yet proven commodity. Now, with Tyler Seguin and Doug Hamilton set to lead the Bruins for years to come, it’s scary to imagine how badly Burke would be harped if Kessel wasn’t off to his best season in the league to date.
One thing Leafsâ€™ fans know for certain is that weâ€™ll take Phil Kesselâ€™s dominance and run, because Bruinsâ€™ fans will never get back what Peter Chiarelli surrendered for about 40 games of Tomas Kaberle. If you remember, at the time of the deal, the value coming back was considered fair as we didnâ€™t really know what we were getting in Joe Colborne, and draft picks are always hit and miss when outside of the top ten.
Courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Through a season of inconsistencies, the one thing that has remained constant for the Maple Leafs is the production of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The duo surely formed one of, if the best, forward duet in the league, consistently tussling with the Sedins for the highest scoring pair (they’re trailing the race by a single point currently). All the while still keeping pace in the Art Ross race individually, as well. With all the success created and sustained, it was at one time far-fetched to believe the two could be split him for any reason.
With a three game losing streak in hand – one that all but made the Leafs four game win streak irrelevant – Ron Wilson made the peculiar coaching decision to split them up. And early progress reports signify it could turn out for the better.
Something many of us have learned about Brian Burke during his in Toronto is that he’s extremely patient. The Kaberle, Kessel, and Beauchemin deals evidence Burke’s ability to wait in order to maximize return value in trades. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the Leafs don’t have a #1 center yet, as an opportunity up to Burke’s standard has yet to come together.
With the confirmed “availability” of Anaheim’s “big three” the most intriguing part in all of this was the prospect of icing a line featuring Lupul â€“ Getzlaf â€“ Kessel. What it would take to acquire the Ducks’ centerman is still up for debate; however, beyond the usual claims of being a physically dominating, playmaking pivot with a high hockey IQ, Getzlaf provides one of—if not the—best value in the league in terms of points-to-million ratio.
Photo Credit: Mike Cassese/REUTERS
One positive that came out of Thursday night’s frustrating loss to the Hurricanes was another goal for Nazem Kadri. That’s a total of three now since being called up four games ago.
However, the statistics doesn’t tell the entire story with Kadri so far – it’s been much more than that. He’s evolving into a improved possession player with elite playmaking skills before our eyes.
We’ve watched him thread a perfect saucer pass to an incoming forward, while just barely keeping the puck onside. We have we seen him circle around the offensive zone, looking for passing or shooting options, and if they aren’t there, patiently make another go around. We have we seen him either in the slot, dishing pucks back and forth with Connolly, and we’ve seem him down low cycling with MacAthur. Heck, we’ve even see Kadri follow an assignment of being the primary net presence on a power-play – and the kid is just 6’0/188.
Photo: ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency
It’s important to keep in mind that, as a rookie fresh out of college, the extent of Gardiner’s seasonal workload was 41 games – dispersed in two-game weekend sets with big chunks of rest in between – during his three years of NCAA hockey. The adjustment to the NHL grind has definitely has shown through in recent games.
Thinking back to the start of the season, Gardiner â€“ despite his rookie status â€“ was a poised, two-way defenseman with a high hockey-IQ (he still is). For evidence, look how he has been used by the coaching staff. His consistent pairing with Luke Schenn is plain evidence of the confidence the coaches have in him. Wilson and his staff see him as a defenseman matured beyond his years whose skill, intelligence and decisiveness with the puck complements some of Schenn’s weaker traits.
Generating some offense early was the key for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as it was the lead they established so quickly that kept them afloat throughout this game. It was a game that saw both teams dominate at various points, resulting in plenty of goals for us fans to enjoy (or sit in discomfort), though the better team definitely won tonight. The Leafs got the lead early, and played through some defensive lapses to earn a much-needed victory.