NHL Trade Analysis: Maple Leafs Trade Phil Kessel to Penguins

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 12 hours, you’d know that the Toronto Maple Leafs completed a blockbuster trade that sends star winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. There have been rumours surrounding this possibility for a few days now, but Brendan Shanahan finally pulled the trigger this afternoon. The Leafs also happen to be shopping Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. It may seem like the Maple Leafs are melting away their talented players, but I believe the word “imploding” suits the situation better. In all fairness, the trade isn’t as bad as it seems and may be a part of their rebuilding process. We’ll break down the full details in the trade, as theirs more to it than it seems.

We know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably right. Toronto did not receive great value in return for a star player like Phil Kessel, that’s a given. However, it may not be as bad as it appears at first glance.  Ironically Brendan Shanahan said he didn’t expect Toronto to make headlines when Free Agency opened up on July 1st.

The full trade is as follows

Pittsburgh Acquires                                                   Toronto Acquires 

Phil Kessel                                                                 Nick Spaling

Tyler Biggs                                                                 2016 1st Round Pick (conditional)

Tim Erixon                                                                  2016 3rd Round Pick

2016 Second Round Pick                                          Scott Harington

                                                                                   Kasperi Kapanen

                                                                                   Retain $1.25 Million Of Kessel’s contract (7 years)

“Phil’s certainly a very talented player, but we knew changes had to come,” Shanahan told reporters in Toronto Wednesday. “This is about a recognition on our part that what we’ve been doing here and the group that we assembled here wasn’t getting the job done. We are here to build a team that is capable of winning the Stanley Cup and there are no shortcuts to go around doing that.” 

Pittsburgh, is in win-now mode, has cap space and it sequence, was the perfect trade partner. The Penguins were also desperate for a top-six player to pair with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Kessel is a five-time 30-goal scorer who went through a slump at the end of last season, when he scored eight goals in his final 51 games. He finished with 25 goals, definitely his best season but he really didn’t have much of a supporting cast. Put between Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, don’t be surprised if Kessel double’s that number.

There are a number of conditions on the draft picks involved in this trade. Details from the Penguins:

— If Pittsburgh qualifies for the 2016 post-season, Toronto will receive the Penguins’ 2016 first-round draft pick; and the Penguins will receive Toronto’s 2016 second-round selection. The second-round pick would be the one Toronto originally acquired from Pittsburgh for Daniel Winnik earlier this year.

— Should Pittsburgh miss the 2016 playoffs, Toronto will INSTEAD receive the Penguins’ 2017 first-round pick; with Pittsburgh getting Toronto’s 2017 second-round selection in return.

— If the Penguins were to miss the post-season the next two years, Toronto would receive Pittsburgh’s 2017 second-round draft pick and Pittsburgh would not receive a draft pick.

The Penguins had been pursuing Kessel for the past week. The 27-year-old is entering the second year of an eight-year contract . Kessel, who has surpassed the 30-goal mark in four of the last six seasons, registered 25 goals, 36 assists with a minus-34 rating in 82 games for Toronto this past season. Not up to his standard, but scoring 25 goals on a bad year is very good. At one point in the 14-15 season Kessel was 3rd in goals and points.

Defenseman Tim Erixon, forward Tyler Biggs and a conditional draft pick that could be Toronto’s second-round pick in 2016 or 2017 went to Pittsburgh in the trade with Kessel.

Toronto used some of the immediate cap savings from the trade to sign forward PA Parenteau to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million, another reason for the trade. Parenteau is likely a temporary/immediate impact Kessel replacement, it’s clear they’re not of the same calibre but it definitely helps offset the loss. Spaling is most likely seen as being in the same position as Parenteau, which is to score. To even more so fill in the offensive gap left with the departure of Kessel. Spaling had 27 points in 81GP last season, he faired a bit better the season before with the Predators at 32 points in 71 games.

With Spaling’s contract ending at the end of the 2015-16 season, Spaling will most likely be with another team at the trade deadline.

Harrington drastically improves the Maple Leafs depth on defense, which is an important asset in any rebuild.

Kapanen joins a deep group of elite forwards William Nylander, Mitchell Marner and Brendan Leipsic ect. in Toronto’s deep pool of top forward prospects, rivaling that of the Detroit Red Wings.  This gives them some security for their future, whereas Phil Kessel is a now player Kapanen is a future player.

Kapanen, the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, was selected 22nd overall by the Penguins at the 2014 draft. The 18-year-old Finnish winger is a small, quick, skilled forward who fits the mould of the type of players the Leafs have been adding of late. He spent the last three seasons with the Kalpa organization in the Finnish Elite League. He also played four games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League. He could be a star in the making, but the Penguins don’t have time to waste and wait. Crosby and Malkin are in their prime and their time to win is NOW. Both the Pengins and the Leafs could regret this trade, but as for right now it stands that the Leafs got the short end of the stick.

At the end of the day, if nothing else, the Toronto Maple Leafs gain cap space, a deeper prospect pool, draft picks and the Kessel drama comes to an end. The Toronto Maple Leafs are finally able to focus on becoming a better team and this trade could be the kick start they needed…or maybe not. We really won’t know for a while.

Who do you think won the trade? Vote here.


Moe Omer, is a writer for The Hockey Guys. You can follow him  on Twitter@Momo_Omer.

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