Deadline Decisions: What’s Kessel worth?


Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel. (Chris Young/CP)

So what’s Phil Kessel worth?

Great question. Something the Maple Leafs clearly want to assess as they contemplate moving the best pure scorer the club has had since, well, Alexander Mogilny probably, and maybe Dave Andreychuk.

Both those players, of course, were established snipers before they arrived in Toronto, while Kessel’s prowess at depositing pucks in nets has mostly come during his somewhat controversial years in Toronto.

Let’s be clear. Kessel has never to our knowledge worn a track suit to a team meeting, and while there are those who would portray him as poison in the dressing room or a coach killer, there are others who would tell you he’s more of a follower than a leader, less likely to start a disturbance than be a mildly interested onlooker.

So by controversial, really we mean his style. Never quite addicted to the gym, definitely disinterested in speaking to the media. All he really does, and has ever done, is score for the Leafs during a period when they’ve hardly surrounded him with premium talent or given him a true No. 1 centre. Clearly that’s not enough for many fans, media and now, it appears, the organization.

Fair enough. So what can you get for him?

Well, we now know what Evander Kane is worth. If you look at Tyler Myers and Zach Bogosian as essentially a wash – Bogosian a higher pick, Myers a better career so far, Myers a higher cap hit but owed less in the next few years than Bogosian – then Kane’s move to Buffalo brought winger Drew Stafford (impending UFA), former first rounder Joel Armia, agitator Brendan (Son of Claude) Lemieux and a first round pick in the 20-30 range.

Winnipeg fans want to believe that’s a motherlode for a malcontent. Looks more like three possibilities and a player who may not be here next season. Armia is probably the key, and he’s a riddle to some who believe that package of talent should amount to more than it has to this point.

So two good prospects, a pick in the bottom third of the first round and a UFA winger with 31 goals in his last 166 games on a really bad Sabres team. Helpfully, Buffalo will continue to pay half his salary this season.

How comparable are Kane and Kessel? Well, more like apples and oranges than apples and apples, but both are essentially scoring wingers. Kessel has more speed and has produced a great deal more (177 goals since ’09) in terms of pure stats, while Kane brings a physical dimension to the rink, could be a better five-on-five and defensive player, but has been battered by injuries, particularly this season.

Kessel should demand more on the open market, except that he has seven years left on a contract that comes with a cap hit of $8 million per season. Moreover, $28 million of the remaining $54 million is payable in the next three seasons, including next year when the winger receives a cool $10 million.

Kane, by contrast, has three more years at $6 million. At the end of that, however, he’s a UFA, which means the clock will start ticking next fall on how long he’ll last in Buffalo.

Kessel is locked in long-term. Kane? He’s locked in probably until the Sabres are ready to be taken seriously as an Eastern Conference playoff team.

When you add it all up, Kessel’s worth more. But not that many teams would have either the appetite for that contract or the cap room, which might mean the Leafs could be forced to retain salary a la Vancouver with Roberto Luongo.

That also means the market is probably smaller for the Leaf winger compared to Kane, who would have probably had 20 or more suitors for his services had he remained a Jet past the March 2nd trade deadline.

All in all, the Leafs are probably better served to wait until the off-season to move the 27-year-old winger when the maximum number of teams will be kicking his tires.

That said, if a playoff-bound or playoff-desperate team comes knocking in the next 19 days with two good prospects and a first rounder, you know the Leafs will be listening. Hard.

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