Friday, September 18, 2009

Phil Kessel is a Leaf

The Leafs acquired Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins for two first round picks, a second round pick and a reported five year $27.2 million deal that carries a $5.2M cap hit.

Kessel is coming off shoulder surgery and will be out until November, possibly December.

By the numbers, Kessel has put up:

70GP 11-18-29pts
82GP 19-18-37
70GP 36-24-60

That's a very nice progression with all signs pointing in the right direction.

That breakthrough year came while playing with gifted centre Marc Savard. It should be noted that Kessel's goals for 60 (GF/60) drops by about 40% when he’s not on the ice with Savard, from 1.246 down to 0.782 and the Leafs don't have any forwards with those type of set-up skills.

A few other things to keep in mind. Kessel plays soft. Monsieur Duvet soft. He had six hits in the entire 2008-09 season (that's not a typo). That works out to about one hit every 12 games.

He doesn't play the PK either.

Sure none of this will matter if he's scoring 30+ goals. But if that surgery didn't go well or if he's lost his soft hands, he doesn't bring much else to the rink. And that's a worry when the Leafs have committed over 10% of their cap to Kessel for the next five years, more if the cap shrinks as it's expected to do.

This is a difficult deal to evaluate, it seems to be contingent on more ifs and hypotheticals than the American's case for war in Iraq.
  • Can Kessel come back from off-season surgery?
  • Can Kessel continue to grow as a player or was his 36 goal year an aberration?
  • Will the Leafs finish outside of the top 10, or could their first rounder be in lottery contention?

Ok, maybe just three big questions.

I'm not crazy about this deal and it's mostly because of timing. The Leafs have kept just three first round picks since 2000 (Tlusty, Schenn, Kadri) and the organization isn't exactly loaded with prospects.

Yes, Burke has done a nice job adding Hanson, Bozak and Stalberg to the club, but those players will be UFAs in two years whereas draft picks are RFAs after three or four.

The Leafs may have just gotten more competitive, but depth and salary control are the keys to building an elite club. Two things the Leafs gave up to land Kessel.


  1. Or, the Leafs just added something (a young, elite scorer) they weren't going to add through the draft unless they got really lucky.

    The answer to question 3- I mean, do you really think the Leafs are going to be as bad as we were the last two years? Really?

    The two questions for me with this deal are a) how PK responds to the Leafs regime, b)his health and c) How Mazem develops, because his upside his Marc Savard.

    I know that's three questions. We went all in to acquire an elite talent, and I don't believe even you can deny that Kessel is that. Will he live up to his talent? did we pay too much? That, as much as will be written in the next week is unknown.

    Could have got Kovalchuk. Could have got Blake. I guess we'll find out.

  2. I don't believe Kessel is a proven elite talent, yet.

    If I did, I wouldn't have as many issues with the deal.

    Was Cheechoo an elite talent? What about Dustin Penner or Geoffrey Lupul's (lone) 30 goal seasons?

    Too many "ifs" in this deal for my to like the price.

  3. I suppose the difference between Kessel and Chechoo, Penner, and Lupul et al. would be that Kessel (unlike the other players named, if I recall correctly) has always been touted as a premier offensive talent in development.

    That doesn't mean that Kessel is risk-free, of course, or that his credentials as an "elite talent" are any more firmly grounded. You make a fair point that Kessel is not yet an established top level goal scorer (though Dr. Steve also makes a fair point about Kessel's level of scoring when viewed in the context of his age and stage).

    The more I think about it, the more I see our goaltending as the fulcrum point on this deal. If Vesa and the Monster reek, the Leafs are in panic mode and need to find a tender post haste; if, on the other hand, the goaltending comes through, this deal does fit with the plan and - though not without risk - was the correct move for the organization.

    (p.s. your comments over at Triple P last night inspired/frightened me into a post on the trade, by the way. Thanks for your contrarian thoughts.)

  4. I think hindsight will be the judge on this one.

    It could go either way in my mind.... Kessel is a very gifted (and young) offensive player who "might" be able to jump start some offense.

    At the same time though.... if there isn't anyone able to feed him the puck in a position where he can score... Boston might be climbing the depth chart the next couple of years.

    Time will tell I guess.

  5. Well know in a few years. What makes the deal interesting is the fact that Kessel is so bloody young. He will only be 22 shortly. And he's already a 30-goal man in the NHL.

    The numbers about Savard are worrisome, but I think he's still got developing to do. Again, so young. Time will tell...

  6. Paul Steckley8:55 am

    Kessel was highly touted in his draft year and was seen as a highly skilled player. His totals last year bear out his skill. Yes, he had Savard feeding him the puck but Savard could feed me the puck and I'd invariably shoot it right into the goalie's chest, or over the crossbar, or into the stands, etc. Kessel deserves credit for the goals he scored. He has the ability to score goals in this league and should do so in the future.

    At this moment the Leafs have no one close to Savard's passing ability but not many teams do. Everyone other than Yzerman and the Canadian Olympic committee can appreciate the special skills he has. However, there's no reason that Kessel can't be successful with Stajan, Mitchell, or whomeever else Wilson plays him with. He might not score 50 but 30 is realistic. Blake scored 25 last year and I think Kessel is at least at Blake's skill level.

    In crtiquing this trade then, the question has to be asked what the Leafs would have been able to draft with those picks, and would they have been able to draft a 30 goal scorer? The first round picks won't be lottery picks or high in the first round. Burke has already improved this team enough that those picks will likely be in the 15-20 range.

    A casual perusal of first-round picks in that range from 2000 to 2006 shows, out of 42 total picks, only a handful of decent players. I'd suggest that Frolov, Parise, and Getzlaf are the only top-end talent players selected in that range over that period. That's 3 players out of 42, or just over a 7% chance of drafting a significant player.

    Kessel has not shown that he belongs in that group yet, but his speed and soft hands suggest that there's a high likelihood of that happening. This trade won't be able to be fully evaulated until we see what Kessel can do, but the odds are greater that a guy that scored 36 goals in the league before he turned 22 will repeat that than the Leafs drafting a significant player with those picks. Thus, I like this deal and think Burke is doing a great job so far.

    BTW, I think Hanson is an RFA at the end of his contract. I'm not sure about Bozak. Stalberg was actually a JFJ pick, as Burke likes to point out. I'm not sure about his contract either.

  7. Anonymous9:42 pm

    Paulie, if Savard were feeding you the puck, it would go sailing right through the slot, hit the boards on the other side and bounce impotently into the neutral zone. You know why?... Because you'd still be picking your ass up off the ice behind your own net.

    I like the deal. Its giving up a lot, but nothing today. I agree there's some risk to him, but if it works out - great! If not, all you've lost is "coulda beens".

    Hmmm... wonder how deep the draft is supposed to be next year?

  8. Keep in mind, Kessel was supposed to go #1, but dropped because of intangible negatives. In the World Juniors, his pedigree was unmistakable. Kessel should be Coach Wilson's #1 priority. What Kessel evolves into over the next two or three seasons is on Wilson's shoulders.

    I love draft picks, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Hanson. Hayes. Bozak. Kadri. Oreskovic. Gunnarsson. Without the NCAA signings, this deal would be lunacy. I think it wise to be trepidatious, but the scale and impact of the off-season talent boost has yet to be fully measured.

    A Bruins' fan buddy of mine likened Kessel to a third line checker during his prominent World Junior tourney a few years back. He recanted the next game.

    What also must be taken into account is how much Burke was able to accomplish with so little to work with. His efficiency ratio is in the top percentile of League GMs, and there is no reason to think his performance will ebb dramatically. It would be comfortable to operate from a position of plenty, but so far Burke has been able to do more with less.

    Don't worry. Kessel is money. But he isn't a savior.