Toronto Maple Leafs: Does Trading Phil Kessel Make Sense?

Matthew Sookram@@matthewsookramContributor IIMarch 17, 2012

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 13: Phil Kessel #81 celebrates the goal by Tyler Bozak #42 (not pictured) of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period against the Florida Panthers on March 13, 2012 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

As the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking toward another long summer, people have been looking for answers to the question of what went wrong.

The Leafs simply just couldn't find a way to win when it mattered most and will have to watch the playoffs from the bleachers instead of the benches.

One player though that was continuously trying to keep the Leafs in the hunt was Phil Kessel. His seven goals and 11 assists this month show that. He continued on his scoring pace while the rest of the team seemed to struggle. It is reminiscent of when Mats Sundin played in Toronto and put the team on his back down the stretch.

The difference is while Sundin could carry the Leafs into the playoffs, Kessel has yet to show he can.

Over the past couple of days a few reports have come out in the papers, and the discussions by a few analysts have been on the topic of trading Phil Kessel.

I wondered at first what good would this do for the Maple Leafs.

If you trade Phil Kessel, the one guy who is really playing well, what message would that send to the rest of the team?

Also, you would have to get back exactly what you paid to get him, and right now I don't think any GM would be willing to part with two first-round picks and a second for Kessel. I don't see Burke being able to swing that trade, and after seeing what he gave up he is more inclined than ever to hang onto him, just to save his reputation.

It did get me thinking, though: what would the Leafs be able to do with Kessel as a bargaining chip?

Could he bring back a big star in a one-for-one deal, such as Rick Nash? If that’s the case would it make sense to move him?

If Nash came over and Kessel left, you pretty much have the same problem you have now: one superstar with no help. I think in this case you are going to have to have both Kessel and Nash (or another star player of that caliber) on the same team. A one-for-one deal at this point doesn't make sense.

Could Kessel get a handful of prospects and mid-level players? Sure he could, but would a package of those guys be able to help the Leafs at this point? I imagine the deal would look similar to the one that brought over Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames.

Of course, Burke sold to them the fact that he thought Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers would be worthwhile additions to the Flames, but ironically the only one that really panned out was Ian White, athough it was with the Red Wings not the Flames.

So if Kessel could net a package of players, how many players in that package would actually amount to anything? When you deal one player for four, you're hoping that one of those four players can replicate the success of the guy you just traded away. If the deal really works out, maybe you get back two of those players and another guy that does his job.

But rarely do these kinds of trades work out for both teams. And more to that point, rarely does this work out in the Leafs' favor—see Owen Nolan. The fact is, maybe Kessel could get a nice package of prospect and mid level players that hopefully develop into the kind of talent Kessel has why not just keep Kessel?

Could Kessel get a couple of early-round draft picks? Probably, but that would signal another rebuild. The Leafs have more than a few talented young players down on the farm (in fact that farm team is one of the best in the AHL, go figure) but restocking the farm is an on-going process.

While it's true you can never be sure about your draft picks until they have played a few years, there's always the hope that having as many early-round picks as you can get will get you one of those rare franchise-changing players.

But again, this is the Toronto Maple Leafs, and when was the last time they came across one of those players, if ever? Wendal Clarke was a great draft pick and franchise player, but his time in Toronto never brought them a championship.

I'm not saying Kessel is the savior the Leafs have been hoping for, but he is talented. Trading him away for a few picks at this stage would mean that Burke has changed his plans (if he ever had one) and the Leafs are going to go the patient route and rebuild, again, for the third time in five years. Seriously?

So what, then, is the great benefit of trading away Kessel? To me it is a solution that doesn't make sense at this point. What the Leafs need to do is find a legitimate number one goalie, someone with a history of winning big games and stealing away those points when it comes to the playoff stretch.

They are one of the youngest teams in the league, and even though they have a veteran defenseman as their captain, I believe they need a strong veteran presence in net. If Burke makes that his No. 1 priority this offseason, they should be in much better shape heading into the fall of 2012 than they are in the spring.

 This to me is what makes sense. Trading away Kessel does not.


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