The bomb has dropped. The Maple Leafs have traded Phil Kessel.
Even if it might be the right thing for the organization, trading away elite talent like Phil Kessel always brings about mixed feelings — he scored 181 goals and 394 points in 446 games for the Leafs and never missed a game since he made his debut in November of 2009. An elite talent has come and gone after the team, and management, surrounding him failed him — full stop.
Kessel has been one of the elite scorers in the NHL over past five seasons, and is only 28, but he was a lightning rod of negativity, feuding with media constantly and getting blamed for the team’s struggles. The best center he ever played with in Toronto consistently was Matt Stajan and now he’s going to a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin.
And the Leafs retained salary to facilitate the move. Now Toronto will have $1.2M of dead salary on their cap space for the next seven years.
The full trade is as follows:
Toronto trades: Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, 2nd, and retains 15% of Kessel’s salary
Pittsburgh trades: Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, 1st and 3rd.
It is reasonable to expect that the first round pick will be at the end of the round. Scott Harrington is a left handed shutdown defenseman who played for the Hunters in London, and Kasperi Kapanen is a former 22nd overall pick who almost made the Penguins out of camp last October.
Nick Spaling is a salary dump for the Penguins that can play in the bottom six and put up some secondary points; he’s not a bad player, and he can take a shift.
Last season, Kessel essentially had lows across the board. First time in seven years not hitting 30 goals (or equivalent pace), a shooting percentage so low the last time it was achieved he was a teenager, and the team was awful. So, in a nutshell, the Leafs just sold very low on Kessel.
Harrington is a reasonable prospect with a chance at being a top four defenseman, but he joins a crowded left handed logjam developing on the Toronto blue line. Even excluding recent aging signings like TJ Brennan and Matt Hunwick, the team has Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Stuart Percy, Martin Marincin, and still Dion Phaneuf even though he can play the right side. He’s a good player, the Leafs aren’t good enough to worry about “fits” yet, and in Detroit Mike Babcock regularly dressed six left handed defensemen so he may not view it as an issue at all. Compared to the rest of the D core, he brings more of a defensive element to his game than the rest of the group.
Kapanen is the son of Sami Kapanen, who Leafs fans probably remember from a certain famous hit. He’s a scoring right winger, and if last season’s camp with Pittsburgh is any indication, he may have a shot at making the Leafs right out of camp for the upcoming season. He’s on the smaller side at 6’0 and not yet 190 pounds, but he’s skilled. Some believe he flat-lined in his draft +1 year, even though his scoring was up in his second year in the top Finnish league (14 points in 47 games in his draft year, 21 points in 41 games last season).
There might be another shoe to drop with this deal, so stay tuned.