Kessel's worth the gamble

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

Steve Thomas scored 42 goals the season before he was traded to New Jersey and scored at just over a 20-goal pace in his three seasons with the New Jersey Devils.

Why that is now relevant relates to Brian Burke's belief that in acquiring Phil Kessel he wasn't just picking up a 36-goal scoring kid from the Boston Bruins, he was picking up a whole lot more.

"He scored 36 goals with a trapping team," Burke said of his new winger. "I'm interested to see how well he does with a team that doesn't play the trap."

Bill Guerin had his best scoring seasons after leaving the Devils. Same with Jason Arnott, brother of Kessel's agent, Wade, who had his highest scoring numbers before and after New Jersey. Same with Doug Gilmour, who has his lowest point total in a 16-year period, while playing for the Devils.

What Kessel represents for the Leafs, more than anything else, are possibilities. What is he capable of? How many goals? What is his upside, assuming his rather uneasy personality can handle Toronto?

One question though: Kessel played with a superb playmaker in Marc Savard in Boston. None of the Leaf returning centres would be considered great puck movers.

A year from now, maybe him and first-round pick Nazem Kadri are playing together. For now, when he begins in mid November, he'll have to make due on his own.

This and that

Most impressive about Burke as Leafs general manager: He goes for it. Other teams want Jonas Gustavsson. He landerd him. Other teams want Kessel. He got him. You don't always win those battles, but at least he's in them, scratching and clawing away. In pursuit of what he wants, Burke can be a bit like a dog on a bone. He won't let go. You may not like all his choices but you have to admire his passionate approach ... Kessel will have turned 22 by the time he plays his first game for the Leafs. Only a few Leafs in history had that many goals in a season by their 22nd birthdays. Their names: Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Rick Vaive, Wendel Clark and Ed Olczyk ... The Leafs overpaid for Kessel but not ridiculously: Had they signed him to a free-agent offer sheet, they would have had to relinquish a first, second and third-round draft pick. Instead, they give up another first but not a third and the deal which works out fine so long as they don't miss the playoffs this year. Kessel clearly is worth an early first-round pick, which is what he was. So the first pick is a wash. Basically, it's a first-round draft pick, maybe middle of the pack, and a second pick after that. These aren't deals for Tom Kurvers, Owen Nolan, Vesa Toskala or the retiring Brian Leetch. This is value for value.

Hear and there

The assumption is that Cito Gaston will be back as Blue Jays manager next season. What makes that a strange premise is there is no assumption that interim president for life Paul Beeston will be back along with the sure-to-be-fired general manager, J.P. Ricciardi. So assuming there is a new Jays president and there is a new (please, please) GM, why stick with the old push-button manager? ... Why exhibition hockey is meaningless: Phoenix outshot Anaheim 30-2 in the first period Friday night and lost the game ... Haven't seen anything slower than Jason Allison in a Toronto uniform since Buck Martinez was rounding third ... The Phoenix Coyotes are just kidding people by insisting that Wayne Gretzky's absence from training camp is insignificant. Imagine Leafs camp without Ron Wilson setting the agendas, the lineups, the rules, determining who plays and who doesn't and how much they play in a game. A training camp without a head coach is a camp without proper direction ... By the way, an e-mailer insists he ran into Gretzky with friends in a Scottsdale bar on the night the Coyotes opened at home and said he didn't know what he found more odd -- Gretzky being out and about or nobody recognizing him.

Hear and there

The Chris Bosh -- is he staying or going tour -- is about to begin. The speculation will not end until somebody answers the question one way or the other .... So Sidney Crosby wants an explanation as to why Paul Kelly was removed as executive director of the NHL Players' Association. Good for him. Now if the rest of his union brethren ask enough questions, maybe they'll figure out how a good man who cares deeply about his players and as deeply about the game got gassed in a truly messy piece of petty politics ... "We're optimistic," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said about the return of The Investment, Rick DiPietro. Snow was so encouraged by DiPietro's return from knee surgery that he signed Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron over the summer ... Why you can't take the Atlanta Thrashers seriously: Nik Antropov is their No. 1 centre ... Could the Blue Jays have used Pedro Martinez, who is 5-0 with a 2.87 earned-run average in Philadelphia? ... Alex Rios has completely fallen off the map in Chicago where he's hitting a powerless .147 with the White Sox, who only owe another $60 million US ... Why exhibition hockey is meaningless, Part II: Mike Craig always looked like he was on the verge of being a star in the pre-season.

And another thing

The legendary Red Auerbach would not have made the trade Burke made for Kessel, knowing Kessel was hardly a favourite son in Boston. Said Auerbach once: "They tell me that about one in 100 change. Two things. One I am not in the business of change. Two, I don't like those odds." ... The Calgary Stampeders weren't impressed with the quarterbacking of Phil Kessel in 1982 (four touchdown passes, four interceptions) so in the off-season they went out and signed Danny Barrett and Bernard Quarles ... Why exhibition hockey is meaningless, Part III: Andy Wozniewski doesn't score winning goals in the regular season ... Is this the dullest September in baseball history? Not a pennant race to be found ... In between sentences, Jake Delhomme threw another interception ... Admit it, before last week you'd never heard of Juan Martin Del Potro? Question is, will you ever hear of him again? ... Just wondering: Is Howard Sokolowski a Senators fan? ... Mats Sundin was 23 years old coming off a 32-goal season when the Leafs traded for him in 1994. In retrospect, he would have been worth two first-round picks ... Happy birthday to Guy Lafleur (58), Greg Valentine (59), Sophia Loren (75), Jason Bay (31) and Mickey Klutts (55) ... And hey, whatever became of Gerry Dattilio?

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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