The trade that will not go away is finally complete. The names are all known only the circumstances remain spotty.
When Brian Burke made the polarizing deal for Phil Kessel, he knew it wouldn’t disappear quickly. He knew it would be analyzed ad nauseum. He knew there was all kinds of risk involved.
What we don’t know — and can’t know — is whether the Maple Leafs would be in better shape today if he hadn’t made the controversial deal.
The trade became complete on draft night. Kessel came to the Leafs and the Bruins turned two first-round picks and a second-round choice into Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton. The players all have names and faces now: What still can’t be determined is what any of the three Boston players will become.
On paper, the score is 62-10 in the goal department in favour of the Leafs. Kessel with 62 goals. Seguin with 10 — and more on the way. When and if Knight plays in the NHL is anyone’s guess. Those who watch him with the London Knights believe he will play one day. Those who know Hamilton well figure he’ll be a prominent NHL defenceman. On Draft Day, everyone is always something prominent. The reality is never so simple.
And nothing about Phil Kessel ever is.
He’s a goal scorer but not a leader. He’s a speedster but rarely a game changer. He is the quintessential ‘yeah, but’ hockey player — for everything you get, you give something back. For everything he gives you in production, he takes a little away with the other missing aspects of his game. He doesn’t necessarily have a good attitude or a bad attitude: There is no easy definition of Kessel other than streaky goal scorer and the Maple Leafs will spend this weekend, next weekend and maybe part of the summer looking for someone to centre his line and make him better.
With Kessel, the Maple Leafs aren’t a playoff team in their current format.
Without him, they might well be worse.
Had Burke not made the impetuous and much maligned deal, where would the Leafs be right now? They would have a kid like Seguin, and who knows when he’ll be ready to be a difference maker. They’d have whomever they would have chosen in the second round last year. At best, those are 20% selections — 80% of second-round picks never amount to much. They would have had the ninth pick in Friday night’s draft. That’s probably a player looking to begin his NHL career in 2013. And they’d have a kid from this year’s draft not ready to play next season.
Which means the Leafs would be horrible this year, next year, and who knows how many years after that. Which Burke has worked so hard to avoid.
Right now, they do offer some hope, although a stretch of hope. The future revolves around the goaltender, James Reimer, and the emerging captain, Dion Phaneuf, and Kessel and whomever the Leafs find to centre their first line. A decent centreman would take the 30-goal scoring Kessel and make him a 40-goal scorer. The rest is pretty much up in the air.
So the short term truth of the Kessel deal: It has turned out to be damned if you and damned if you don’t.
Brian Burke has said numerous times that if he had it do over again he would make the Kessel trade again. The truth is, both teams would make the trade. The Boston Bruins, not because of the deal, won the Stanley Cup this year. The Leafs, not because of the deal, finished 29th two seasons back, costing them Seguin. Neither of those things were predictable when Burke and fellow general manager Peter Chiarelli started talking trade in the summer of the 2009. Chiarelli didn’t believe he was that close to winning. Burke didn’t believe he was that close to terrible.
And now at least the bodies have names. Seguin should start making a difference by this season and be significant a year from now. There’s no way of knowing when Knight or Hamilton will arrive but by that time Kessel will have scored 100 or more goals for the Leafs. The catchup, for the Bruins, may not come statistically for years.
All that’s known may remain unknown for years.
The deal is complete. The jury is still out. The Leafs weren’t very good when they made the trade, aren’t very good now. And the analysis goes on.