July 2, 2015

Leafs got hosed on Kessel deal

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

You might as well call them the Pittsburgh Stealers, because the Penguins robbed the Maple Leafs on Canada Day.

Because Brendan Shanahan and Co. had apparently had their fill of Phil Kessel, they decided to trade the high-scoring winger for next to nothing.

In return, Toronto got Kasperi Kapanen – a first-round pick from last year – next year’s first- and third-round pick and a couple of middling prospects.

Oh, the Leafs also gave up a pair of their own middling prospects and gave back Pittsburgh’s second-round pick acquired in a previous trade.

But here’s the real kicker – the Leafs are still paying 15% of Kessel’s salary. For the next seven years. A total of more than $8 million. There are players on the Leafs roster that won’t see paycheques as big as the Leafs are cutting for Kessel.

Speaking of cutting cheques for Kessel, the Leafs also had to pay him $4.5 million of his signing bonus because they couldn’t get a deal done before the July 1 deadline.

It kind of makes you wonder if this whole GM-by-committee idea is really working when you fail to make a deal at the draft that could’ve saved you that much money.

And whatever happened to the team’s company line of “we’re not going to trade guys away for nothing?” This deal sure seems like a whole lot of that. When the best asset you’re getting back amounts to two picks in the 20s, that’s not enough for your star player that didn’t ask for a trade.

Now, while many will argue that Kessel had a terrible attitude and “had to go,” new coach Mike Babcock never even attempted to tutor the gifted winger.

Wasn’t the reason Babcock was brought in is because he’s such a talented coach? Shouldn’t the so-called “best coach in hockey” be able to pull the best out of troubled wingers like Kessel? If not, then why is he making more than twice as much as any other NHL bench boss?

The deal couldn’t be better for Kessel. After years of toiling away on a line with marginally talented Tyler Bozak at centre, Phil the Thrill is now on the wing of one of the best centres in the league, Sidney Crosby. Kessel has been a top-10 scorer without that type of support before – what is he capable of with Sid the Kid setting him up?

So where does this leave the Leafs? In the gutter, but even worse off than before.

You would wonder how season-ticket holders feel about the team dealing away its best player, but corporations rarely respond to questions of that nature.

It will be another season or three without playoffs at the ACC and it will be a lot less entertaining ice hockey to watch as well. While we all know this rebuild was going to be a rough one, Leafs management is only making it harder on itself by taking cut-rate deals like this for legitimate all-stars.

If the Leafs had a GM, I’m sure that some would be talking about firing him – and I’m not so sure I’d disagree too much.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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