Number Crunch: Why Phil Kessel is More Valuable Than You Might Think

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IMarch 22, 2010

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 13:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs questions a call with referee Steve Kozari #40 in a game against the Edmonton Oilers on March 13, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Leafs defeated the Oilers 6-4. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It would be a surprise to nobody if I were to say that Phil Kessel is a great hockey player, but it might shock you to know just how great he really has been this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 22-year-old sniper has been at his goal-scoring best of late, notching five goals in his last five games with 28 on the season. He's the Leafs leading scorer by a mile and is a lock to reach the 30-goal mark by season's end, but that's not even where it begins to get impressive for Kessel this season.

He is currently tied for 18th in goals with Mike Richards, Henrik Sedin, and Patric Hornqvist which may not sound like any mean feat, until you look at the games played.

All three of the players mentioned have appeared in 72 games this season. Kessel has played just 60—12 less than those he's tied with. In fact, not only has he played fewer games than those three players, but every single player ahead of him in the scoring race as well.

15 of the players tied with or ahead of him in the scoring race have played 70 or more games. Only Rick Nash (68), Marian Gaborik (66), Ilya Kovalchuk (65), Alex Semin (63), and Alex Ovechkin (62) have played fewer, and 10 have appeared in every one of their team's games.

If you look at goals per game, Kessel's 28 in 60 averages out to a goal every 2.14 games, or if math isn't your cup of tea, that's basically a goal every two games. If he manages to hover around that average for an entire season, he'd have at least 40 goals, which is something only a handful of players do each year.

The reason why jis performance this season is so impressive is because he's managed to crack the top-20 goal scorers while missing significant time. The shoulder surgery he had at the end of last season carried over and kept him out for the first 12 games for the Leafs. Only one other player in the top 30 (Mike Cammalleri) has missed more than 10 games.

An impressive accomplishment to be sure.

So let's just say, hypothetically, that Kessel doesn't miss those 12 games to start the year. Let's say that he maintains that goal-every-other-game average that he has done through the team’s 72 games so far.

That would give him approximately six more goals, which would put him at 34 goals on the year. That goal total would put him eighth on the goal-scoring list, right behind perennial sniper, Ilya Kovalchuk (though in the spirit of being hypothetical, Kovalchuk would have more goals as well).

With 34 goals and 10 games remaining, he would have a legitimate shot at 40 goals this season, especially on his goal-per-game pace he's been on in the past two weeks.

Add in the 12-game scoring slump Kessel struggled through in Jan. of this year, and his current goal total is even more impressive.

If you do the same for each of the players ahead of Kessel—averaging how many goals they'd have if no games were missed—then he would be top 10 in the league. Only Ovechkin, Gaborik, Kovalchuk, and Semin would have more than one goal added to their current totals.

Kessel has proven to be a streaky scorer in both Toronto and Boston, as he went on a similar 13-game scoreless drought last season while still managing to score 36 goals in just 70 games.  

Even though it's an extremely "what-if," look at the goal scoring totals in the NHL, and the only real numbers that count are the current ones, it's certainly interesting to look at how it would be had the speedy American winger not missed any time at the start.

Brian Burke has been widely criticized and questioned for giving up two first round picks for the young star from Boston, but if he's able to play an entire season next year and keep up the goal scoring pace he's been on for the past two seasons, we could be looking at the first 40-goal season for a Leaf since Mats Sundin got 41 in 2001-2002.

So before you continually question the Leafs fearless GM on his decision to give up potential first-overall picks, take a look at the players Kessel is surrounded by on the list of top goal scorers and ask yourself a question.

Would you make that trade for someone like Jerome Iginla, Henrik Sedin, Rick Nash, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, or Zack Parise? If your answer was yes to any of those, you'd be getting a player who is averaging fewer goals than Kessel over a full season.

Just something to think about next time you find yourself worrying about Burke's decision to add Kessel, who has proven to be more valuable than the average fan might think.