For a look at why the leafs should consider moving star winger Phil Kessel, click here.
Now here’s where things get fun. If I were Brendan Shanahan I would call Dave Nonis into my office and tell him to get three teams on the phone and let them know that Phil Kessel is available; Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Why those three teams you ask? Well a few reasons. There are very few teams with the cap space to add Phil Kessel’s contract while only subtracting from their lineup the kind of player the Maple Leafs would covet in return. These three teams all fall in to this category.
As Maple Leafs GM my first call is definitely to David Poile of the Nashville Predators. Poile has long coveted the talented winger and when Kessel was originally traded to the Maple Leafs in 2009, it was widely reported that the Predators made a strong push but ultimately ended up with the second best offer. With this information in hand the Leafs know of the strong interest Nashville would have in Kessel.
Next is the contract situation. The Predators have about $10 million in free cap space so that is not an issue. We also saw with the Shea Weber contract that when Poile is dedicated to a high–end talent, the team is not afraid to pay the high salary necessary.
Now comes this interesting part; Why would Nashville be the first choice for the Maple Leafs? The answer is simple: Seth Jones. The towering defender is settling in to his second season in the NHL at only 19. A former 4th overall pick, Jones has not looked out of place playing alongside Shea Weber on the Predators top PP unit. While his offensive numbers may be underwhelming, he’s a 19-year-old playing a position that usually takes years to develop. From a Nashville perspective it might hurt to give up such a talented young stud but thanks to great drafting and clever maneuvering by Poile, the team has a stable of young defenders that can easily fill the gap by committee. The Predators are a team that look like they want to compete now. Adding Kessel to Peter Laviolette’s system would create and incredible offensive weapon the franchise has never had before.
On the flip side, the Leafs would be getting a stud 19-year-old defender to pair with Morgan Rielly creating the potential for their own Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook pairing for the next decade and a half. Many believe you have to build from the net out to be successful. A Jones/Rielly pair in front of Bernier and the Leafs are ahead of many teams in the NHL for the next decade.
Maybe you get a little greedy and you ask Poile to throw in Colin Wilson, a player who had massive expectations but has never truly lived up to the potential many saw during his draft year. Given their lack of organizational talent down the middle, Wilson is a player that would be significantly more valuable to Toronto than he would be to Nashville. If Dave Nonis picked up the phone and asked for Jones along with Colin Wilson in exchange for Phil Kessel, does either side back away?
Let’s say Nashville’s love for Kessel has waned, or maybe they just can’t give up that stud defender every team is looking for, my next call is to Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild. Why are the Wild a fit? Well they’ve proven over the past two off-seasons that they are not afraid to spend big money on high end talent. Parise, Vanek, Suter, big contracts like the one Kessel has are nothing new in Minnesota. Those signings also show a desire to win now. Bringing in the top free agent talent points to a team that wants to take that next step in the playoffs, something Kessel would go a long way in helping. They’ve got their all-around stud up front in Parise. They’ve got their defensive workhorse in Suter, now they just need their Patrick Kane, enter Phil Kessel. The Wild have a little less than the necessary $8 million cap space but given the return a trade would easily fit under the cap.
What would the Maple Leafs demand in return that would warrant moving their best player? Again you aim for the young, high ceiling players that are already NHL level but far from their ceiling. From Minnesota I ask for two key pieces in return. I start with Jonas Brodin, the 21-year-old Swede will no wow anyone with his offensive production, but he is a player that can drive possession and lead a breakout with the best of them. He is a puck mover who will be one of your most responsible defensive players that will play in your top pair for years and years. Asking for Brodin is one thing but it’s not nearly enough for Kessel.
You’re going to need a second piece in return, this is where things get tricky. Mikael Granlund has to be the target. The smooth skating center has elite puck handling and playmaking skills. A prospective pairing with top prospect William Nylander is something that would have Leafs fans and management drooling over.
Granlund and Brodin would create an elite package that would light up the eyes of any General Manager in the NHL, am I getting greedy? Possibly. But it might be the necessary package for the Wild to bring Phil Kessel back to the hockey crazed state in which he spent his lone year of college. Fletcher would inevitably counter with Brodin and Coyle but if I’m the Leafs I hold on to my elite player unless the return is mind-blowing, something a Granlund/Brodin package would be.
For the third call, you get Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets on the phone. The Jets are in a position where it’s not that they want to win now, it’s that they need to win now. Cheveldayoff knows this and will be likely to make a big move as a result. “Sure let’s do a Kessel for Evander Kane deal, I’m in” is the first thing you’ll hear from the Jets GM. That’s the obvious move. And enticing one, but something the Leafs cannot do for the sake of the future. If you’re dealing with the Jets, you must get a return that involves the big future first line center you’ve been searching for.
Any Kessel deal would have to involve Mark Scheifele. The big center is a five tool player who has the IQ and skill to be a top two way center in the NHL. Add to Schiefele a young defender that falls into the “needs a change of scenery” category in Zach Bogosian and you’ve got yourself a deal.
It’s been said Toronto is too impatient for a proper rebuild. If I’m leaf management as much as it hurts to trade your best player I would take any of these three deals and start the organization towards a re-build that can be attained quicker than the traditional method of draft picks. Any of the three would net you a return that would provide the franchise with young but NHL ready cornerstones on cheap contracts to go with a core of Kardri, JVR, Rielly, Nylander and Bernier.
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