BOSTON (CBS) — When the Boston Bruins traded flashy forward Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009, they knew he was an incredible goal scorer but an incomplete hockey player.
Now three seasons into his career as a Leaf, Toronto is starting to accept that reality, too.
So much so, in fact, that noted Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox is saying it’s time for Toronto to move on from Kessel.
“Now, as the team crashes into the shoals in one of the ugliest late season swoons in franchise history, it’s clear that Kessel isn’t The One,” Cox wrote. “He’s no leader on a team still developing internal leadership. He’s not combative or a fierce adversary. He doesn’t bring size to the equation or pluck or two-way excellence.”
To that, everyone in Boston says, “No kidding.”
Cox’s argument, however, is less about Kessel’s on-ice performance as it is his effect on the salary cap. Kessel is responsible for a $5.4 million cap hit for the next two years, and his contract includes a limited no-trade clause in the final year. Cox argues that the pressure is on for general manager Brian Burke to proactively seek a trade that will net the Leafs some value for Kessel.
“He’s at his maximum value now with a fairly digestible contract,” Cox argued. “Getting good returns will become more difficult as he nears UFA status. Understanding that and moving him now would be a much bolder and smarter decision than heading down the Rick Nash rabbit hole.”
Kessel, 24, leads the Leafs in goals (34) and points (72), and he’s actually tied for third in the NHL in goals and fifth in points. However, he has a minus-4 rating on the season, and he was actually a minus-20 last year, good enough for 761st-best in the league. In his nearly three full years in Toronto, in fact, he’s a minus-32 player, while in three years with Boston, he was a plus-5 overall but a plus-23 in his final season in Black and Gold. Essentially, all the progress the Bruins made in making Kessel a complete player has gone to waste since he was shipped to Toronto for two first-round picks (Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton) and a second-round pick (Jared Knight).
What’s most interesting is that none of this is earth-shattering news for anyone. In Boston, Kessel didn’t work hard and didn’t buy into the defensive system, earning him a spot in the press box for two playoff games. Ultimately, it led to the Bruins having no other choice than to see goodbye to a then-21-year-old kid with a wealth of talent. Now, the once-enamored Leafs find themselves in the very same position.
“Moving Kessel wouldn’t signify ‘blowing up’ the blueprint. It would simply be an acknowledgment this player doesn’t embody what the club requires at this stage,” Cox wrote. “Burke can’t afford to insist that Kessel is a foundation player when he obviously is not, at least not for these Leafs, and he certainly can’t afford to make another huge financial commitment to him.”
Somewhere, Peter Chiarelli, Claude Julien and Cam Neely no doubt shared a laugh while reading this one.