Toronto is considered by many as the center of the hockey universe. It’s also known to be one of the most challenging and frustrating hockey markets to play in given the microscope, fishbowl setting the players can’t escape from. The media is relentless, the fans have passed being restless and are down right bitter at the fact they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967.
So when this year’s Maple Leafs team has somewhat stumbled out of the gate at 2-3, it’s understandable that fans and media personnel are already looking to the future. More specifically, keeping their eye on the number one draft pick and securing it by having a miserable season. Thus leading to the question if the Toronto Maple Leafs should trade Phil Kessel.
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star thinks now is the time for the club to pounce on the idea and trade Kessel by the April 3rd trade deadline. His reasoning is simple. Trade him now while the value is reasonably high instead of having to re-sign him for gobs of money after next season or lose him for nothing to free-agency.
Cox is quick to point out that Kessel has fallen out of favor with some fans and media, wondering if he’s “ill-conditioned, isolated, troubled or simply massively unlucky, or some combination of those.”
Sure Kessel hasn’t scored yet this year, further mounting the pressure of playing in Toronto. But Cox reminds us that over his career he’s averaged 33 goals per season, a feat only 2% of players achieved last season and only 1.4% the year before.
So the 25-year old has some talent. That’s as obvious as the nose on your face. And so he’s struggling this season in what is a short season so it’s difficult to say there’s lots of hockey left.
But is Cox thinking like so many Leaf fans that this season is already lost? Sure the team lost Joffrey Lupul for a month or more but does that give them reason to expect a bottom three finish and be in play for the lottery that could land them either Nate McKinnon or Seth Jones? Their goaltending situation is a disaster, so is their season truly lost?
It would appear that Cox is thinking that very thought. He was quick to defend his article on Twitter, stating that this isn’t about how Kessel is playing but more about managing the club’s assets.
In his piece Cox refers to the Columbus Blue Jackets trade that sent Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings last spring. Columbus received stud defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. Surely Kessel would garner that type of return from a club desperate to add a first or second line forward for their playoff run.
It’s funny how this trade rumor has already started merely weeks after Brian Burke was released of his duties in Toronto. It was Burke who pulled the trigger on acquiring Kessel, a move that had many critics wondering if Burke knew what he was doing. Burke always defended the move, even after he was fired.
Now Dave Nonis is in charge and like Cox says, he has no ties to keeping Kessel around. This is his club now and he is the architect responsible for designing a Stanley Cup caliber team which may not include Phil Kessel if the Leafs can stockpile prospects for the future.
Should Nonis trade Kessel this season then we truly have our answer; that even Maple Leafs management have thrown in the towel on this season.