I'm reading on social media like HockeyInsideOut.com that the Canadiens would do well to obtain Phil Kessel from the Leafs. He would meet many needs, a high-scoring, offensively-gifted player on the right wing.
And as can be expected, there are many detractors to this position, this idea.
I feel like this discussion, like many others on social media, circles around aimlessly because both camps fail to address the other’s concerns, if not downright ignores them.
Sure, as the pro side mentions often, he’s gifted, talented, offensively productive player, things we desperately need.
What the pro-Kessel side glosses over and misidentifies is how he is negligent about his conditioning, and his cap hit, and his contract which runs him long into his thirties.
This isn’t just a couple of haters online who don’t like Phil Kessel because he’s fat, it’s been a constant throughout his career. Elliotte Friedman and Pierre LeBrun did some even-handed analysis of this at the end of the season, how the Leafs think ‘he’s leaving a lot on the table’, or words to that effect, and that they approached him to discuss in a cooperative manner, how he could play better for longer as he approaches his thirties if he was better conditioned.
And this isn’t just an off-year. This isn’t due to a divorce which was a distraction and which prevented him from doing what he usually does to prepare for a season. He’s always been chubby, he’s never quite bought in like other NHL’ers to the new way of doing things, to the need for advanced training and strict nutrition. This was something he was questioned about as far back as his draft year, when meeting with the Columbus scouts, they challenged him on that, on his poor combine results.
So to make a case for a Phil Kessel trade, you have to allay the concerns about a player earning $8M for seven more years, as his performance and effort wanes. That’s a potential Scott Gomez albatross of a contract for a team which takes it on, a player who was worth it before but whose skills are declining. With no amnesty-buyouts on the horizon.
The other objection, about how Phil is moody and doesn’t quite get along with the media and others is also a concern, is something that’s dogged him again since his young days, and which he had to answer to before the draft. He’s done relatively well in Toronto, but he’s obviously no Brandon Prust, no Jonathan Toews, no ‘yessir-crash through the wall’ player.
I think it was Elliotte Friedman who tried to make excuses for him, saying that maybe he could be a two-way player if he was better conditioned, that he wouldn’t have to manage his effort only on the offensive side, that maybe his attitude and coachability improve if he’s more fit, but again, character concerns are something that needs to be addressed by the pro camp if you’re mounting a challenge. How does Marc Bergevin ignore the character issue if he’s going to make that trade.
Reading up on the 2015 draft, we see a lot of writeups from journos and fan-scouts who caution that evaluations about problem players have been wrong before, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are examples trotted out often. The knocks on Phil though are eerily prescient though, when you read “Future Greats and Heartbreaks”. All the things about Phil are bang-on, a singular talent, exciting player, dynamic offensive threat, but dressing room issues and poor fitness and awkward mannerisms and relationship with others, with teammates.
To me, in a vacuum, I’d like to see Phil Kessel on the right wing opposite Max Pacioretty, sure. But factor in the conditioning and character issues, the contract, and what it would cost to bring him aboard, and the whole discussion is a non-starter.
We talk about drafting and development and being patient with our kids and managing the cap, but we want to hit a homerun with three or four savant trades, damn the torpedoes.
We talk about stability and process, but we want that after we fire the coach and overhaul the roster.