Why Phil Kessel Will Be Traded By The Toronto Maple Leafs…Eventually

It’s been a difficult season for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, and that’s putting it lightly. To see that for yourself, all you have to do is take one look at the standings. You’ll find the Leafs just 4 points ahead of the lowly Carolina Hurricanes for second last place in the Eastern Conference.

It’s a harsh reality to swallow for fans, management and the players themselves. The 2014-15 season started out with so much promise. All of the above seemed optimistic at the team’s ability to rebound following a 2014 spring that saw the team completely fall apart during the stretch drive, taking a nose dive right out of the playoffs despite a very strong first half of the season.

As is usually the case in Toronto when things aren’t going well, the axe has to fall on someone and changes need to be made. In the offseason, that meant the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as team president and analytics guru Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager. During the season, it has meant the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle, the trading of Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and probably others before the NHL’s March 2nd trade deadline.

The idea that the Leafs should be cleaning house and that the organization is more likely to get its hands on Connor McDavid than a playoff spot, like most people thought the team would prior to the start of the season, still leaves one question we thought wouldn’t come up…is it time for Phil Kessel to go?

He’s emerged as a point-per-game player in the last couple of years and yet it seems the perennial 30-goal scorer has a reputation for being very difficult to coach, as per former Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson. He’s also evidently more excited by the thought of working on his ping-pong game than he is about practicing and on top of that, it’s obvious he’s not a fan of answering questions from the media.

It’s those truths that have fans irritated, the team losing and Phil likely thinking about the possibility of a new beginning and greener pastures somewhere else, if only in the back of his mind. Still, with a $64 million contract signed and sealed locking up all of his prime years, it’s likely Kessel will still be a Maple Leaf when the clock strikes 3pm on March 2nd.

If the Leafs were to move him now, the winger’s services wouldn’t likely give the team a fair return on investment. The better move would be to ship him in the offseason as the calendar inches closer to the NHL draft. The current season is already a write off and the rumour mill in Leaf land will be non-existent on March 3rd while Canadian media focuses on the league’s playoff races, leaving the Leafs to play the role of spoiler.

That said, the questions around Kessel should not be if but rather when he’ll get dealt. If you need proof as to why his departure from the city is imminent, consider what happened to the player that was once upon a time traded for Kessel, the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin. 

Like Kessel, Seguin fell out of favour in Boston and needed a change of scenery. Things soured almost as quickly as they apparently have for Kessel. Seguin signed a long-term deal with the Bruins in the summer before he was moved to the Dallas Stars.

Fast-forward to today and Seguin has flourished into one of the game’s best players alongside teammate Jamie Benn. He’ll likely finish his second straight season in the state of Texas eclipsing both the 30-goal and point-per-game marks respectively, leaving the hockey world to talk about his growth rather than his shortcomings.

One would have to think in light of witnessing Seguin’s turn around, Kessel realizes at this point that he could probably use a fresh start. Yes he may be signed to an 8-year deal, but in the NHL 8 years is an eternity and it seems an eternity is a little too long of a time span for fans, management and players in Toronto.

That said, Kessel is still a Maple Leaf…for now.