Kessel Trade: A Perfect Full Circle


Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager, Brian Burke should have uttered one phrase to explain the situation, one simple little phrase to envelope the reasoning for the Phil Kessel trade;

“Our picks in our vision of where we ended up are overvalued in accordance to the available crop of prospects.”

But in Toronto, to admit that in what’s deemed as a ‘rebuild’ would have been a PR disaster.

Despite popular opinion, he wasn’t wrong.

The world is no longer flat, it’s round .. like a full-cirle

(TORONTO – Gus Katsaros) We have to start this off with the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Generally described as being a draft rich in depth, for all the pomp and circumstance, the draft was light on skill.

‘Mortgaging the future,’ to wax a much-overused phrase, took into consideration risking the picks, which at the time were probably estimated in the 10-15 range – while I think it was more in the 7-10 range.

The run on skill began early:

1 Taylor Hall Edm
2 Tyler Seguin Bos
3 Erik Gudbranson Fla
4 Ryan Johansen CBJ
5 Nino Niedereiter BYI
6 Brett Connolly TB
7 Jeff Skinner Car
8 Alexander Burmistrov Atl
9 Mikael Granlund Min

Unsexy picks, Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley fell from a generally accepted top ranking down to the teens after the NY Rangers took bruiser Dylan McIlrath and the Dallas Stars picked Jack Campbell to become the first USNTDP goaltender to be selected in the first round.

Others opinions will clearly differ, but there are flaws in each defender’s game that teams in all likelihood weren’t willing to spend resources (time, human and monetary) to develop into potentially middling players, not legitimate stars.

Instead, clubs made a run on the best available skilled talent early on, hoping to catch a talented prospect with the most high-end potential.

The rest of the crew had a different, but limited overall potential, thin on high end skill, but good role players, with the odd second line talent or hybrid second/third line player.

‘Projects,’ at best.

There were no guarantees of star talent or even developing into star talent. This was confirmed at the draft, and relative hindsight … for the average fan, media personality and analyst.

The Leafs, however, made this assessment back in 2009, knowing full well the overvaluation of their picks.

Burke once more launched a passionate defence of the September 2009 trade, that landed the potential 40-goal winger (Kessel had 30 in his first 64 as a Leaf) for two firsts and a second in 2010.

“We got the young player we wanted,” Burke said. “It’s true that finishing so low seemed like a remote chance when we were doing well in pre-season games and made the trade, but we knew the risk. We knew it could end up being for Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall (the two OHLers who finished 1-2 in Central Scouting’s final report) so full value to Boston for making a good deal.”

But Burke also restated that even if the Bruins win the lottery, it was no guarantee of a blue chip.

“I stood on the draft floor (1993) when Alexandre Daigle was picked first by Ottawa and we (Hartford) picked Chris Pronger second. And when Atlanta took Patrick Stefan and we (Vancouver 1999) went second with Daniel Sedin. Those guys we took turned out pretty good.”

Toronto Sun – April 13, 2010

Cutting to the heart of the matter, teams do not draft NHL players; players are developed. And a team could only develop talent to the degree of the underlying asset’s realistic potential, whether through the draft, or free agent prospect signings.

The 2011 draft is similar in limited skill, higher on depth. Burke and Co considered the offer sheet route for Kessel, that 3rd round pick would have been of very little value to the Bruins for what they were giving up. The inclusion of the 2011 1st round pick, with the same assumption of being in that 10-15 range, provided more value to the Bruins and the courtesy of a proper deal over an offer sheet.

The public perception of the value of the first round picks in 2010 and 2011, however, is severely skewed due to the plethora of talent of the 2008-09 drafts.

Golden Picks

Draft picks are not a fixed value commodity; they act more like a fluctuating dollar based on an asset backed commodity, like gold.

If the price of gold increases (high end talents, deep into the draft) the value of the dollar (pick) is high. If the price of gold decreases (less talent, more projects), the dollar (pick) isn’t worth the same value.

From the perspective of the cost of developing a player, follow the dollars. Drafting is allocating the resources to make kids with potential into legitimate hockey players (including salary and costs).

That’s the financial definition of a draft pick. The developmental cycle envelopes this associated cost and fluctuates with prospect potential.

A draft pick is only as valuable as the underlying assets and look at the list of players moved in 2009-10 to see what GM’s generally thought of the 2010 crop.

Dominic Moore for a 2nd round pick by Montreal? Worth his weight in playoff performance gold, but he didn’t sign an NHL contract until October 2009. Yet, he’s worthy of a 2nd round pick?
Was Eric Belanger worth a 2nd round pick?
Jordan Leopold went to Pittsburgh and Denis Grebeshkov to Nashville for 2nd round picks
Is the expert, Andy Sutton, worth a 2nd round pick?
A team (I didn’t bother to look into this) supposedly offered the Leafs 2nd and 4th round picks for Ponikarovsky at the deadline; they opted instead for Luca Caputi, the known commodity, already along the development curve – a theme to be explored below.

This is also why the Devils paid the price for, courted and landed Ilya Kovalchuk. Their prospect system isn’t as rich as in the past and near future player turnover – including Brodeur – will dictate the necessity to take over as face of the franchise. Among others, they gave up a 2010 1st round pick in the transaction to Atlanta.

The Calgary Flames had the option to give Phoenix their 1st overall pick in 2009 or 2010 in return for Olli Jokinen and gave Phoenix the 2010 1st. The 2009 pick (23rd overall) had more value.

Calgary drafted Tim Erixon whose Skelleftea HC teammate was drafted in 2009 and traded on the LA draft floor in 2010).

Ottawa picked at 15th overall … that is, if they hadn’t traded away their 1st round pick.


On the draft floor, the Senators traded their 2010 1st overall pick – 15th overall – for Blues 2009 1st rounder (17th overall), defenseman David Runblad.

Essentially, Ottawa rejected every player in that range after a targeted player was chosen when they’re draft slot arrived.

If first round picks were so valuable, why would they trade the pick to St Louis for Runblad?

Aren’t firsts supposed to be so precious? Could they not offer something of lesser value for an unproven asset and kept the pick?

“He’s a signed player. He’s 6’2″. He’s skilled. Hockey-sense wise, very smart. There was a forward we were looking at, but when he disappeared we felt this was an opportunity to get a high-end defenseman. He’s an offensive, real smart player. Puck mover, playmaker. One of the people that fit today’s game. We think that David goes back, plays one more year in Sweden, then he can step into the NHL the next year. We think we got a year ahead by doing this. We got a top player who we think in this year’s draft he’d be in the top ten. That’s our opinion, with our scouts.”

Silver Seven Sens

Runblad, already one year developed would be coached by former Senators scout Anders Forsberg in Sweden next season.

‘Proven’ crops up again.

Ottawa willingly traded their pick wanting the proven product, knowing where they were in his development instead of allocating more resources and development time on depth acquisitions in 2010.

Runblad was highly regarded by Senators scout Anders Forsberg. Runblad will remain in Sweden for another year, but should be ready for the NHL in 2011-12, which Murray stated would be a faster rate than another junior they would have drafted at No. 16 on Friday (2010 draft).

CBC Hockey

Ottawa trades their first for Runblad on the draft floor and it barely ripples ..

What if Ottawa did this at the March trade deadline? Imagine Darren Dreger or Bob McKenzie announcing a 1st for Runblad during the deadline frenzy .. or any other time for that matter other than at the draft.

Bryan Murray would have been fed to Spartacus.

Burke and Co. mimicked this move at that range of finishing expectations back in September.

The high-end offensive component sorely missed – after an off season of structuring the back end – wouldn’t be found among the projects in the 2010 or 2011 draft. A trade would be the only way, despite the public chorus of disapproval for precious picks.

But the Leafs didn’t end up in that range. They gave Boston the 2nd overall pick and missed out on .. what .. a future franchise player? Superstar, right? Right?


Tyler Seguin

“This was an emotional trade for both sides,” Chiarelli said. “I think in Toronto they realize they got a good player in Phil and we will too. You try and project draft picks and where teams will finish, but we didn’t envision it this high.

Toronto Sun

The Leafs pick turned into a good player. So what? Why can’t each team get an asset?

It boils down to just what kind of player the young pivot will become. Did the Leafs really give up a super star? Someone that would lead them better than Phil Kessel would?

Really .. the ‘f’ word; franchise?

TSN’s James Duthie had to get to the bottom of that:

Duthie: What kind of player do you see him becoming? Do you use the ‘F’ word – franchise player?
Chiarelli: Well, I think Tyler has a lot of potential. There’s a lot of things that we like that aren’t out of the ordinary. Like he’s got a tremendous shot, vision, creativity .. he’s got a lot of things going for him James. He’s a good kid, comes from a good family and we’re glad to have him.

Chiarelli avoided that question like the drunk diva at a party. He seemed almost uncomfortable at the notion of putting that expectation out there on his young star.

Only, he didn’t even use the word ‘star.’ He focused on the potential and “things that we like that aren’t out of the ordinary”

Even Seguin, the #2 selection overall is a project, albeit advanced. There are holes and a developmental curve is still very much necessary.

Superstars and franchise players do not start on the rankings in anything but the #1 spot and hold on to it. Seguin was the default second overall pick, because no one else in the crop was good enough to knock him off from that, not because he’s a legitimate star. Albeit advanced, the pivot is not guaranteed to turn out to be anything other than a good player. That’s it.

Aside from Hall, most from the 2010 draft were projects, with potentially long term development plans, which will require resource allocation and time … and that’s if they develop.

So if the Leafs are going to allocate resources, both human and funds, and time, what would have been the best way to do so? Do they take the picks project-heavy 2010? To become what?

When GM Peter Chiarelli sent Kessel to Toronto in September, he never imagined he’d find himself in position to land either Hall or Seguin.

“No, not really,” said Chiarelli. “We had a range in mind, we had to choose between the Leafs and a couple other teams, and we kind of had a range in mind. But not this high, no.”

The high picks are especially important this year because Hall and Seguin are considered can’t-miss-prospects and the talent level drops off from there.”

The Hockey News

Trading two potential projects for Phil Kessel, while making up the picks by scouring College and Europe for potential 2nd line projects that will likely require the same amount of attention and resources under distinct specifications versus expectations?
Signings of Marcel Mueller and Brayden Irwin to whom Burke refers as having top-6 skills, need development and they’re at best, projects; just like the draft classes.

As a GM of the most scrutinized NHL club, to a fan base bombarded into believing a full on scale down rebuild is the absolute only way to build a franchise, consistently jack-hammered home in virtually every medium, Burke could never, ever, publicly express his picks were overvalued or that an NHL draft was anything but wonderful!

Burke, meanwhile, didn’t even watch the NHL draft lottery Tuesday night, in which the pick formerly belonging to the Leafs landed right where it was supposed to, second overall, in what is billed as a two-player draft. The pick, along with Toronto’s second-rounder this year and another No. 1 next year, was of course sent to Boston for Phil Kessel.

Burke did not mean to send away Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, plus a second, plus another first. But he did. He never makes the deal if he’s picking second overall, and again in the second round. It’s going to be about the assets the Leafs could have had, and what they wound up with instead.

National Post via

The equality in perception to the term draft pick brings images of Crosby, Ovechkin, Tavares and not Pat Falloon Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan.

So after an off season strengthening the blueline, and having the media clamor about being talent thin up front, Burke cocked that gun and pulled the trigger on the Kessel trade and remained staunch in the view of doing it over again.

If the selection had been Taylor Hall, I don’t believe that view holds water. That’s the only exception.

“We actually talked about it. What if it’s a lottery pick? What if it’s Taylor Hall?

Toronto Star

Visibility among media, bloggers, fans and everyone else who hadn’t watched any of the draft eligible kids deemed the trade an automatic loss.

Analysis stopped at the immediate value of the trade, the picks, mortgaging the future. Judgment was based on the incorrect evaluation of the draft picks and not the underlying assets, or the strategic value of adding Kessel in these market circumstances.
“We’ve got a 21-year-old who scored 36 goals in the National Hockey League last year,” Burke said. “And I’d make that trade again today. And if it was the end of the year and it was a lottery pick, I’d still make that trade. We believe we got the player we need to take it to the next level.”

Rebuilding is about proper asset management, not just the accumulation of picks and prospects. The general view is not always correct.

The world is no longer flat. It’s round, just like coming around full-circle.

“Teenage mega-talent Alexandre Daigle of the Victoriaville Tigres, who had 64 points in his first 17 games this season is touted by many as a top[ pick in next June’s draft along with players such as Russian Victor Kozlov, Kingston’s Chris Gratton and Peterborough defenseman Chris Pronger.”

“The Nordiques would love to get their hands on Daigle, and will likely try to make a deal with whichever team finishes last this season. Before you chuckle at, say, Ottawa dealing away the first pick overall, consider what the Nordiques could offer. They hold Philadelphia’s first pick in June, which could be a top-5 pick, and the Flyers’ top selection in 1994.”

“They also own top prospects, Peter Forsberg and Todd Warriner. Quebec would gladly trade those picks and those prospects for a shot at Daigle.”

Sunday November 1, 1992
Damien Cox

Gus Katsaros
Katshockey [at]

Special Thanx to Bloge Salming for help with video editing and to Michael Finewax from Rotoworld for the help with the Damien Cox quote (the newspaper was in his home!!!)