Then reality set in. The team is 3-12-0 in their last 15 games and seven points out of a Wild Card spot in a competitive Eastern Conference where the Rangers, Bruins and Capitals have all found their mojo.
Things don’t look good for the Leafs as the league approaches the symbolic halfway point with the All Star break this weekend. And with the trade deadline looking shortly thereafter, the Leafs could clearly become sellers if things don’t improve in the short term. And one of the assets teams are most interested in?
One of the more dominant goal-scorers in today’s game, Kessel—who’s notorious for being streaky offensively—received a lot of attention following the firing of Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle when it was insinuated that he is hard to coach. Other terms, like “coach-killer,” were also flung around. Regardless, it out a lot of attention on the Maple Leafs and their vision for the future.
Will Kessel be part of that future?
Despite his rumored shortcomings, it’s not unfathomable that a team looking to add a 30-40 goal scorer to their roster will pay handsomely for Kessel. Maybe a prospect, first-round draft pick and more?
The problem, as is typical in today’s NHL, is Kessel’s cap hit of $8 million per season. Yikes. But he’s locked up long-term, which means he likely wont be a playoff rental. For teams with money to spend, he could be a good piece to begin building an offense around. Buffalo anyone?
Unless a mega-deal comes along between now and the trade deadline, it’s likely that Kessel finishes the season as a Leaf. That’s not to say the team won’t begin making strides toward a re-build if they fail to pick up their pace of play. There’s reportedly plenty of interest in defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forward Nazem Kadri.
But Kessel? If he is going to be dealt in the next calendar year, chances are good the Leafs wait until the NHL Entry Draft in June where they could potentially get a better return from a team looking to build a winner.