With the Leafs sending Kessel to Pittsburgh on July 1st 2015, the City of Toronto was in media chaos. Fans were expressing their opinions on the trade every second, and sports newscasters were trying to make sense of it all. People were already stating the winner and loser of the trade, but in all honesty how can they know? It's impossible to tell who won at this very moment. Like the previous Kessel trade between Toronto and Boston in 2009, this deal can only be analyzed fully in a few seasons from now because of the players and picks that were involved:
Leafs fans need to calm down and refrain from talking negative about the package we received, especially after the explosion of opinions witnessed on social media. What's known for sure is that dealing Kessel was a smart move at this time. As a scorer in his prime, he really shouldn't be on a team that won't be contending for a number of years. The package on the other hand is highly debatable, hence the breakdown (from a Leafs fans perspective and ignoring advanced stats, I might add. For advanced stats breakdown click here).
Toronto receives D Scott Harrington, F Kasperi Kapanen, and F Nick Spaling as players in the deal. To start, Harrington is a projected no.2 or no.3 shutdown defender, and Kapanen a projected top 6 forward. I'm personally thrilled with these two acquisitions because a solid shutdown defender is what Toronto has needed for years, and having another skilled forward in the prospect pipeline is nothing to complain about. Most of the people commenting on the trade have never even heard of Harrington or Kapanen, and it's typical for Leafs fans to overreact over situations before the facts are known and analyzed.
So let's showcase who we got. Hockey's Future has this to say about Harrington:
Harrington is a reliable two-way defenseman with phenomenal hockey IQ and on ice-awareness. He is a strong, mobile skater and is particularly adept winning 50/50 battles in the corner and quickly getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Harrington has the vision and puck-skills to make good first passes and start the play up ice. He ultimately projects as a safe and smart stay-at-home defenseman capable of making a good first pass and playing 15-20 minutes a game.
Kasperi Kapanen plays a cerebral game with the skills and speed to allow him to make the proper plays in all situations and make the players around him better. While not overwhelming from a physical standpoint and with room to continue growing, his hockey sense is on par with the other top players in his age group and he maximizes his talents to get the best out of his game.
These players are great prospects with high ceilings as NHL players in the future. Many "Buds" fans were calling for Olli Maatta to be sent Toronto's way in this trade, but c'mon people, that's the equivalent of the Leafs trading Morgan Reilly. It's not going to happen and it never will, so look at it from Pittsburgh's perspective and you'll see that they were right to refuse to trade him. Fans also wanted Pens' Derrick Pouliot, but again i'm still happy with Harrington instead for two reasons: Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly. Pouliot is an offensive defenceman who is a great puck mover, but looking at the Leafs roster one can see that we already have two of those in Gardiner and Reilly. What we don't have is a defenceman specialized in elite shutdown capabilities, which is what Harrington possesses. Complain all you want that we should have gotten Pouliot or Maatta, but in reality the Leafs don't need another Gardiner or Reilly and the Pens weren't going to ever trade their future no. 1 defender (respectively). What we got was a defensive prospect that plays the role of something we need: strong defense. Having the smaller Kapanen also fits in with the new regime's mentality of skill and speed versus overwhelming strength. How can fans complain right now when we received two elite prospects that fit our needs?
With the other aspects of the trade, the Leafs sent two players that were never going to be part of their team in Erixon and Biggs. These were probably just contract throw-ins so the Leafs had more options to sign other players in the future (my opinion). Nick Spaling was just a salary dump for Pittsburgh and a useful 3rd line player, so that alone isn't something to be upset about. Erixon will add depth to Pittsburgh's blue line, and Spaling will actually help the Leafs ice an NHL team next season, especially if they trade more of their core players away.
Toronto also acquired Pittsburgh's 2016 first round pick (and 3rd rounder, but for this article let's ignore it), which is extremely valuable to this franchise as Mark Hunter is the hockey drafting guru who will for sure (I hope) find them a NHL'er with that pick. The conditions attached however; are a different story:
-- If Pittsburgh qualifies for the 2016 post-season, Toronto will receive the Penguins' 2016 first-round draft pick; and the Penguins will receive Toronto’s 2016 second-round selection. The second-round pick would be the one Toronto originally acquired from Pittsburgh for Daniel Winnik earlier this year.
-- Should Pittsburgh miss the 2016 playoffs, Toronto will INSTEAD receive the Penguins’ 2017 first-round pick; with Pittsburgh getting Toronto’s 2017 second-round selection in return.
-- If the Penguins were to miss the post-season the next two years, Toronto would receive Pittsburgh’s 2017 second-round draft pick and Pittsburgh would not receive a draft pick.
This is the part of the trade where i'll let Leafs fans show their displeasure. It seems that Toronto kept giving into Pittsburgh's conditions and the Pens kept pressing for more; and got it. If this pick happens to turn into that second rounder (however unlikely) then Toronto's management will certainly know that the return for Kessel was underwhelming. For the picks in general, we'll have to wait and see what players are chosen in those slots, and what they become. Maybe the Leafs use Pittsburgh's 1st rounder to take an all star, or maybe they strike out and draft a bust. It's stuff like that which can make a trade look great or bad (depending on your perspective) and can make the transaction more lop-sided in a teams favour.
In the end, only time will tell who won the trade, and if the return for Kessel was a satisfying one. Naturally, Leafs fans will express their displeasure without knowing all the facts, and hopefully everything listed above can help people form an accurate opinion. We got our future defensive defenceman in Harrington, we got a future top line or top 6 winger in Kapanen, and lastly we got a valuable asset in a first round pick. Those were the major parts of the trade, and i'm personally happy with the return because it satisfies our future needs. I'm not saying the Leafs won the trade, and i'm not saying the Pens won it either. I'm in the position of waiting and seeing what these prospects and picks become, but for now it seems that it's a good trade as both teams acquired something(s) which they needed. Toronto received the prospects they wanted, and the Pens found Crosby an elite sniper to play along side. I find that fair for the time being.
All in all President Shanahan knew that he had to wait for a good return for one of the Leafs (and NHL's) top scorers, and for the time being I think he got it.