Saturday, November 21, 2009

Phil Kessel, Metaphorically Speaking

phil kessel leafs
With each mounting loss there is only one thing on my mind: first-round draft pick (or lack thereof). In previous years I shielded myself from the emotional pain of losing by looking forward to the end of June when an awful season could be rewarded with a tantalizing young prospect. However, this year, a loss is just a loss. There is no upside to losing.

I’m not concluding that the Phil Kessel trade was bad for the Leafs. In reality, whether it was a good deal or bad won’t be known for a number of years. My opinion, at this early juncture, is that the trade was good. Here’s why: Kessel is young. Jiri Tlusty came from the same draft class and is still considered a prospect. Whether this reflects poorly on Tlusty rather than favourably on Kessel isn’t relevant. He was also considered a top-end, franchise-type player when drafted and the early returns for the Leafs appear to indicate as much. Accordingly, this year’s draft pick doesn’t really matter. The Leafs have already drafted it. The Leafs’ first-round pick this year is Phil Kessel. I’m happy with that.

Metaphorically speaking, Phil Kessel is an early Christmas gift. As a kid you wait and wait and wait for Christmas Day to open your gifts not ever really knowing what they will be. Did you get a Nintendo or were you stuck with a package of Gobots? The anticipation is almost more fun than actually getting your gifts. But what if your parents gave you the option to receive your gift earlier and they even told you what it was! It would be an interesting proposition. I don’t think I would make that deal with my parents, but I hype things up to myself. I enjoy the mental process of hype and derive a substantial amount of satisfaction from merely thinking about endless possibilities. Maybe that’s the reason why I like the draft and prospects in general. The promise of youth is enticing. Any one of them can become a superstar. As Joe Strummer said, "The future is unwritten."

So gathering plenty of top 10 draft choices doesn't necessarily guarantee a team will develop them into superstars. It certainly increases the probability. However, the history of the draft is littered with players like Henrik Zetterberg taken in the bowels of the seventh round and players like Alexandre Daigle drafted before anyone else.

The Leafs decided to ditch patience and opened their gift early. Phil Kessel is playing like a top 5 draft pick, so if Boston ends up in a similar position come June then Toronto has basically traded their high draft pick for one further along in its development. They are limiting the role of chance.

What scares me about this trade isn’t the first-round pick in 2010; it is the first round pick in 2011. If the Leafs fall down the standings next year and bestow another prime prospect into the Boston farm system it may crush me.

Of course, if the Leafs go on a tear and Boston’s new draft choices fall outside the top 10 then the likelihood of developing players of Kessel’s calibre decreases.

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