Phil Kessel: Defending His Contributions to the Toronto Maple Leafs

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Phil Kessel: Defending His Contributions to the Toronto Maple Leafs
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The horse ain't dead yet.

We're closing in on two years since Phil Kessel was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Boston Bruins and there is still no consensus, at least not among Leaf fans, as to who won the trade.

Critics of the trade felt, and still feel, that it was one of the bigger mistakes made by Brian Burke during his tenure as the Leafs' GM.

In this article, I will do two things:

-  First, I will analyze the trade itself and explain why I think the Kessel trade was one of the best trades in recent Leaf history.

-  To finish off the article, I will defend Kessel's contributions to the Toronto Maple Leafs by addressing nine common criticisms against him.

If you ask a Leaf fan to name the best Leaf trade in the past couple years, they might pick the Lebda trade because we fleeced Nashville or the Phaneuf trade because we fleeced Calgary.

Lopsided deals, however, no matter how deliciously sweet they are, are not the best type of deals.

 

The best type of deal causes both teams involved to improve. It is assumed that both sides get what they want out of the trade.

 

When both teams are happy with a deal, they become more trusting of each other and more willing to negotiate with each other in the future.

To the Boston Bruins, Kessel was expendable. They certainly didn't miss him during the playoffs this past spring.

The Leafs were in desperate need of a top line sniper. Some would argue that Kessel is only second line material, but I'll get to that later.

Many people will say that the Leafs traded Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton for Kessel, to which I say bollocks.

The Leafs traded three high picks for Kessel; there was no guarantee the Leafs would have picked Seguin, Knight, or Hamilton had they hung on to those picks. You cannot trade a player who is not part of your organization.

So the Bruins got their picks (which turned out to be great picks) and the Leafs got their young sniper who was coming off a 36-goal, 60-point season.

How do you feel about the Kessel trade, two years after the fact?

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Brian Burke knew the risks involved and made a calculated move to bring Kessel to Toronto. During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, Kessel was the only real offensive threat on the roster.

One might argue that Burke should have kept the picks and, without an offensive threat such as Kessel, finished both seasons in lower spots in order to pick higher. It could also be added that Burke has long preached patience and that the Kessel trade actually went against this philosophy.

In response, I will only point towards our prospect pool. It's quite deep. If we had truly mortgaged away the future with the Kessel trade, we would be missing far more assets right now.

One might also argue that it was pointless to trade for Kessel when we didn't have, and still don't have, a true top-line centre to complement him. It would be like buying an Xbox several years after buying a copy of Halo, or so they would have it.

In response, I will point out that when a player you want becomes available, the right move is to grab him. If Burke were to have waited until he got a top line centreman (which still hasn't happened yet), Kessel might not have been available anymore, or the price might have changed for the worse.

 

I'm glad that Boston fans are happy with the Kessel trade. In fact, I hope that Seguin, Knight, and Hamilton all have successful and productive years in Boston and the NHL.

If Seguin or the other two turn into stars, good for them and the Bruins. I'll still be happy with the Kessel trade because both sides got what they were after.

Like I said before: the best trades cause both teams involved to improve as a result. Both teams clearly did improve, which is why I view the Kessel trade as one of the best in recent memory.

Now, I will present a list of criticisms that are often raised against Kessel along with my points in defence.

1. Kessel is inconsistent.

I agree that he often goes on prolonged goal-scoring slumps. Despite these droughts, however, he has still managed to score at least 30 goals in each of the past three seasons. If Kessel is indeed an inconsistent player, then added consistency will allow him to score more often.

2. Kessel is soft.

Toughness seems to be more glamourous than skill these days. I won't fault a guy for not throwing his weight around like most other guys do. Kessel's job is to snipe, so as long as he continues to do so, his supposed softness should cease being an issue.

 

3. Kessel is poor defensively.

Kessel was a -20 last season. Awful, yes, but it was a result of playing on a team that was defensively poor as a whole. It isn't fair to pin the blame on one guy; everybody deserves a fair share. When the team improves defensively, expect to see his plus-minus improve.

4. He's a one-trick pony.

Yes, the old toe-drag does get a bit old, especially when it's unsuccessful. However, he's toe-dragged his way to three consecutive 30-goal seasons, so I see no reason for him to stop.

5. It was an overpayment and a miscalculation on Burke's part for someone who has not performed up to expectations.

First of all, you can't blame a GM's mistakes on the player. Secondly, Kessel was expected to score lots of goals for the Leafs, and he did. Therefore, it was not a miscalculation on Burke's part. As for the claim of overpayment, I believe I have adequately addressed that point already.

What do you think of Phil Kessel?

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6. Star players make everyone around them better. Kessel doesn't.

I agree. Yes, Kessel played with bottom-six players and AHLers. No, their play did not improve as a result of playing alongside him.

 

Kessel doesn't need to be a star to be an excellent player for the Leafs. Besides, he wasn't brought in for his leadership qualities.

7. Kessel is a 2nd-line player.

This relates to the last criticism. You can call or label him whatever you want. As long as he does his job and does it well, the labels won't really matter.

8. He didn't deserve to be at the 2011 All-Star Game.

If you believe that, all I can say is: Good thing the experts decide who gets to go! 

9. He seems very uninspired.

My favourite players on the Leafs roster happen to be the players that give the best media interviews. Kessel's interviews are dull, to put it mildly. However, I don't think it's fair for people like us to be judging people based on a few TV interviews. The best judges of his worth on the ice and in the locker room would probably be his teammates, current and former. I hate watching his interviews, but man, do I love watching him play. 

Kessel is actually nowhere near being my favourite Leaf. I can think of at least half a dozen players on the team who I like far more than him.

However, I felt the need to defend him because much of the abuse that he has received over the past couple years was unfair. It was not my intention to come across as a raving fan of Kessel's and hopefully I don't come across as one, because I'm not.

Having said that, I believe that Kessel is still the most skilled Leafs player right now and that the Leafs most definitely did not lose out when they traded for him.

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