THN.com Blog: Leafs took unnecessary risk in Kessel deal

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

It’s enough to make Maple Leaf haters everywhere rejoice.

Fans of the most beloved and reviled NHL franchise are in a hellacious panic over the team’s horrid start. That the club was winless through six starts isn’t the primary source of angst; it’s that Brian Burke has traded away the club’s first round pick for the next two drafts, making the possibility of missing out on a talent such as projected No. 1 overall in 2010, Taylor Hall, more real.

Naturally, it’s far too early to declare a winner or loser in that swap, the one that landed Phil Kessel. Heck, the Wisconsin native hasn’t even shot a puck in anger for his new club and there’s plenty of time for the Leafs to scramble out of the hole they’ve dug.

But it’s not too early to declare the trade an unnecessary risk for the Leafs. That was clear Sept. 18, the day the deal was made. (And this isn’t revisionist analysis; I was on the other side of the world, on vacation, when it went down, so this is my first foray into the fray and my original sentiment. Honest.)

Why the rush? If there’s one franchise in the NHL that has the luxury of time to build a winner, it’s Toronto. Its fans have gone 42 years without even getting close, yet Leafs Nation continues to make its local side the richest, by far, of any in the league. There is no reason to believe that would change under any circumstance; and certainly not if the Leafs continued to sell a long-range plan. Its customers were willing to buy in – and wait several more years – for the promise of sustained success.

Instead, Burke opted to make a splash and part with two potential lottery draft picks for Kessel. The argument another Kessel-esque talent wouldn’t have been available in the next few years is debatable – and dependent on your forecast of Kessel. Is he a slick, 35-to-40-goal scorer, an upper-end offensive player who is a key part of a core? Or is he “the guy,” the player around whom you build, the leader who helps elevate the play and accountability of his teammates and who consumes a large percentage of cap space?

Judging by what I’ve seen and heard, he belongs in the former category, making the swap of what may turn out to be two blue-chippers (maybe even a Taylor Hall) much too great a risk for the potential reward.

And elsewhere in my brain:

• Settle down there, madames et messieurs. That Mayor Regis Labeaume met with the NHL about a potential team in Quebec City means little – big league hockey is not about to return there anytime soon.

Quebec, despite its beauty, charm and passion for the game is lacking a critical ingredient for the NHL to take it seriously: corporate support. If Buffalo struggles to make ends meet with a rabid fan base that devours team merchandise, why would small-market Quebec be any different?

Gary Bettman granted an audience to Labeaume because it was the politically correct, not to mention the respectful, thing to do. It doesn’t hurt Bettman in the PR department to appear sympathetic to the concept of another team in the Great White North, either. Conversely, if he rejected the meeting and that news were reported, his image in Canada would absorb another body blow.

• I’ll admit it. Battle of the Blades is engaging for this hockey fan. I don’t watch reality shows often, but I appreciate this one because of the connection I feel to the former players. And I appreciate the work they’ve invested. I still won’t be watching figure skating from the Vancouver Olympics, though…not unless Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale are competing for Canada.

• I heard Glenn Healy advocate a name change for the NHLPA’s player of the year honor from the Lester B. Pearson Award to the Ted Lindsay Award. Love it.

• The Coyotes are considering parting with their past and ditching the visually startling “White Out.” They’d potentially replace it with a “Sand Storm,” in which they’d ask all fans to wear…tan. Perfect. Nothing like a room full of beige to set an intimidating tone.

Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.

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