Monday, May 25, 2015
Although Kessel is a dynamic offensive player, the Leafs have failed to surround him with talent and the team has wasted Kessel's prime years. There are still good years left for Kessel, but with the Leafs embarking on a full-scale rebuild it's likely those years will go to waste in Toronto. And by the time the Leafs start to rise from the bottom of the league, Kessel will be hitting the decline phase of his career. The wisest decision, therefore, would be to deal him this summer.
But what type of return can the Leafs get for Kessel. Luckily for us, a superstar winger with a massive contract was traded within the past few years and can give us a good idea of what Kessel might fetch in a trade. I'm referring, of course, to Rick Nash.
Through their age 27 seasons, which was the age at which Nash was dealt, the two put up remarkably similar numbers.
And at the time Nash was dealt he was coming off his worst season in five years. He played in all 82 games and managed to score 30 goals, but only finished with 59 points. Similarly, Kessel is coming off his worst season in five years after scoring 25 goals and finishing with 61 points.
Kessel has another seven years on a deal that pays him $8 million a season (or 11.6% of the 2014-15 cap limit). Nash at the time of his trade was owed another six years on a deal that paid him $7.8 million a season (or 12.1% of the 2011-12 cap limit).
The only real difference in their situations is that Nash formally requested a trade out of Columbus, while Kessel has maintained that he wants to remain in Toronto.
As Kessel's situation is almost exactly the same as Nash's when he was dealt, the Leafs can realistically expect to receive a return comparable to what the Blue Jackets received from the Rangers.
Note: The distinction of what line a player was on was determined based on their time on ice during the year before being traded.
Rick Nash, Steve Delisle, conditional 3rd round pick = Brandon Dubinsky (26 year old 3rd line centre), Artem Anisimov (24 year old 4th line centre), Tim Erixon (2009 1st round pick, 23rd overall, Rangers' top defensive prospect), and 1st round pick (19th overall)
Dubinsky had signed a long-term deal with the Rangers and had three years before becoming a UFA. Anisimov was four years away from hitting unrestricted free agency.
The shine has certainly rubbed off of Tim Erixon since the trade, but at the time he was the Rangers' top prospect, even ranked ahead of Chris Kreider in the organization by Hockey Prospectus. Opinions varied about where he stood in the league, however, with Hockey Prospectus ranking him 13th before the 2012-13 season (ahead of players like Morgan Rielly, Jonas Brodin, and Nick Bjugstad) and Hockey's Future ranking him 45th (close to Brendan Gallagher, Tyler Toffoli, and Peter Holland).
At the time Columbus GM Scott Howson was looking for two NHL forwards and considering Nash's hefty cap hit those players needed to have some money on their deals to make a trade work for the Rangers who didn't have much money coming off the books at the end of the 2011-12 season.
The Leafs don't necessarily need NHL players back in a trade for Kessel as they are embarking on the beginning of their rebuild and won't be competitive for a number of years. Additionally, a number of the teams in need of a scoring winger (the Predators and Panthers, for example) have the cap space next season to acquire Kessel without shipping back much, if any, salary. That said, taking back some salary could make a deal easier, although with Kessel the Leafs shouldn't need to take on bad contracts to make it happen.
Some people seem to think that Kessel's trade value cratered after last season and the Leafs should be lucky to get anything for him, but based on what the Blue Jackets got for Nash (two young players, a top prospect, and a 1st round pick), it seems clear that there will be a market for Kessel, flaws and all (remember, Nash had his own flaws). Even after coming off a down season Kessel still ranks sixth over the last four seasons in points with 275.
So who should be in the market for Kessel? We're looking for teams that had trouble scoring last year and have a hole on the wing. Teams that narrowly missed the playoffs or were ousted in the first round are good targets as they should be more motivated to improve this summer. And as Kessel has a big contract it should be teams with cap space, or at least the flexibility to make some trades to free up cap space. In any trade for Kessel the Leafs would most likely be looking for centres or defencemen as those are their biggest areas of weakness, so teams with depth in those areas.
Who does that leave?
Note: Again, the distinction of what line a player was on was determined based on their time on ice during the previous year.
13th in goals scored
Lost in first round to the Chicago Blackhawks
$28.8 million in cap space with 14 players signed
The Predators have had trouble scoring for years, although adding James Neal and promoting Filip Forsberg last year made it much less of a concern compared to years past. But being in a division with the Blackhawks means you need more than just two goal scorers. Adding Kessel would be a valuable weapon.
Potential trade: Ryan Ellis (24 year old 3rd pairing defenceman), 2016 1st round round pick (their 2015 1st round pick was already dealt to Toronto), Kevin Fiala (2014 first round pick, 11th overall, LW, ranked 12th by Hockey's Future)
14th in goals scored
Lost in second round to the Chicago Blackhawks
$9.3 million in cap space with 15 players signed
The Wild play a strong two-way game and have a good system that should have stacked up well against the Blackhawks, but the ridiculous amounts of talent throughout the Blackhawks lineup made the matchup anything but even. The Wild could use another game breaker.
Potential trade: Charlie Coyle (22 year old 3rd line centre), 1st round pick (20th overall), Alex Tuch (2014 1st round pick, 18th overall, RW, ranked 45th by Hockey's Future)
15th in goals scored
Lost in first round to the Anaheim Ducks
$20.7 million in cap space with 16 players signed
The Jets could be even more hard-pressed to score next season after dealing Evander Kane, who for all the drama surrounding him was always able to score goals at a first-line level. Plenty of their young players took a step forward last season and they have plenty of intriguing prospects so trading some for immediate help won't decimate the system.
Potential trade: Ben Chariot (24 year old 3rd pairing defenceman), 1st round pick (17th overall), Josh Morrissey (2013 1st round pick, 13th overall, D, ranked 21st by Hockey's Future)
New York Islanders:
4th in goals scored
Lost in first round to the Washington Capitals
$14.2 million in cap space with 17 players signed
They sure didn't have trouble scoring last season, but the Islanders are at a point in their development cycle where they have to be aggressive in order to take advantage of John Tavares' bargain $5.5 million deal which has three years remaining. They are loaded at centre with Tavares, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome, and can afford to raid a deep prospect pool to make a true run for the Stanley Cup.
Potential trade: Calvin de Haan (24 year old 3rd pairing defenceman), 2016 1st round pick (2015 1st round pick traded to Buffalo), Ryan Pulock (2013 1st round pick, 15th overall, D, ranked 39th by Hockey's Future)
Columbus Blue Jackets:
11th in goals scored
Missed playoffs by 10 points
$9.4 million in cap space with 19 players signed
The Blue Jackets found themselves at the bottom of the league for most of last season mainly because of a comical rash of injuries. After getting healthy they made a bit of a run near the end of the season but simply could not overcome the early hole they dug. Kessel would be the Blue Jacket's biggest scoring threat since Rick Nash's departure.
Potential trade: 1st round pick (8th overall) and Sonny Milano (2014 1st round pick, 16th overall, C, ranked 35th by Hockey's Future)
25th in goals scored
Missed playoffs by 8 points
$16.6 million in cap space with 18 players signed
The Panthers took a big step forward last season, in large part thanks to Nick Bjugstad and rookie Aaron Ekblad. They are strong at centre with Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov, but lack a true scoring threat on the wing as Jonathan Huberdeau has yet to develop into a frontline player. Kessel could give them the scoring punch they lack.
Potential trade: 1st round pick (11th overall) and Mike Matheson (2012 1st round pick, 23rd overall, D, ranked 40th by Hockey's Future)