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On that Kessel contract

Oct 1, 2013, 1:36 PM EDT

Phil Kessel Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs have given Phil Kessel an eight-year, $64 million extension, tying the 25-year-old to the club through the 2021-22 season. Since we just wrote a post about the difficulty making predictions, we won’t say for sure whether this will turn out well, or horribly, for the Leafs. Instead, let’s do this:

Two reasons this was a good move by the Leafs

1. Kessel is one of the premier snipers in the NHL. There are not many players still in their 20s with four 30-goal seasons on their resumes. When a team has one of those players, it really doesn’t want to let him walk away in free agency, or even as a trade-deadline rental. An $8 million cap hit is high, but it’s not insane. No question he would’ve received that if he’d hit the market this summer. Not to mention, the cap is expected to go up, some think dramatically, in the next few years.

2. There aren’t many top unrestricted free agents hitting the open market anymore. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf didn’t, and the Ducks are hardly a big-money team like the Leafs. Not only can pending UFAs sign eight-year extensions with their current teams, as opposed to just seven years with all others, a lot of the time players are married and have started families at that point in their careers. Moving to a whole new city isn’t easy, even for a whole whack of money. So in the Leafs’ case, if they’d lost Kessel, what would they have done to replace his scoring? Maybe they’d have been able to sign a guy like Thomas Vanek, but they wouldn’t have been the only suitors. And besides, Vanek’s four years older than Kessel.

Two reasons this was a bad move by the Leafs

1. Kessel is a winger, and the evidence says that Cup champs are built with goalies, defensemen, and centers. The more money a team spends on its wingers, the less it has for those three key areas. Jonathan ToewsAnze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk — all centers, all have won rings. Alex Ovechkin — winger, no ring.

2. Kessel’s far from old, but some research suggests that 25 is the peak age for NHL scorers. For a player that relies on his speed so much to get into position to shoot, this may be particularly concerning for the Leafs. Not to keep picking on Ovechkin (a.k.a. the reigning Hart Trophy recipient), but there are a lot of similarities between the two players, and Ovechkin’s best goal-scoring seasons came before he turned 25.

  1. esracerx46 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    Nick Backstrom, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Kesler, John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Henrik Sedin. So there goes that argument, all centers…no rings. As far as teams being built by the goaltending, Id argue team defense does more for GAA than a good goaltender.

    • davebabychreturns - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      Some good centers haven’t won the cup therefore building around centers isn’t the way to go.

      That’s asinine..

      • davebabychreturns - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:13 PM

        Rick Nash, Phil Kessel, Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Alex Ovechkin.. no rings. So I guess you don’t build around wingers.

        Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, PK Subban, Dion Phaneuf.. no rings. Guess defensemen aren’t useful either.

        Henrik Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, Ryan Miller.. no rings either!

        Well gosh golly! You can point to any position and name a bunch of good players with no cup rings! I guess it’s maybe just an awful way to examine the value of a given position??

      • sunderlanding - Oct 1, 2013 at 5:20 PM

        Turns out the teams that won the cup also had good wingers and good defensemen. Probably building a good team is the way to go.

    • ethanmacleod1685 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      Good point

    • esracerx46 - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      I didn’t say that. My point was building around centers isn’t the only way to do it. If push came to shove, sure I’d rather have a centerman. But that’s not the case here. Its either pay the man and have him or don’t. Look at NJ a few years ago. They were a couple of games away from the cup and they had who at center?

    • Jason Brough - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      “So there goes that argument.”
      The argument wasn’t that all good centers win the Cup. It’s that, typically, the key forwards on Cup winners are centers. And I think there’s a reason for that — centers have a huge influence on the game, at both ends of the rink.
      That being said, I think the Leafs did what they needed to do with Kessel.

      • esracerx46 - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:33 PM

        No doubt the Leafs did what they had to do. My point is that, regardless of position, players get paid by performance. Phil has performed. You can argue that he doesn’t do as much as a center does to influence a game, win or lose. Frankly you’d be right. Centers typically do more defensively and obviously take more faceoffs than wingers. while not insignificant, those things seem to get overlooked when it comes to contracts. Phil is one of the best snipers in the league, and his position in my opinion is immaterial.

      • pastabelly - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:02 PM

        Agreed, especially the centers who play two way hockey. Chicago and Boston have those.

        Kessel has improved his all around game to the point where he’s closer to being a more well rounded player. I would say that his value would be $7 million, at lowest, given the market contracts. If he’s overpaid, it’s not totally out of line and the years might be two, at most, too much. Arguing the other side, what GM in his right mind would pay Kessel $9 million per year over a long period?

    • sabatimus - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      Tuukka Rask, anyone?

  2. davebabychreturns - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I think ultimately the Leafs are a business and they won’t stand by and watch their team nosedive to the bottom of the league for another half decade (they didn’t exactly plan to do it the first time) in the hopes of picking up talented young players on cheap contracts to build up for a cup run in five or eight or ten years time.

    As such keeping talents like Kessel in the fold is essential if the they are going to continue to improve and hopefully be a perennial playoff team; I would bet dollars to donuts that MLSE would rather be raking in playoff dollars every year and trying for the cup with a roster that doesn’t fit the tried and true formula than paying the price to tear down what they do have and rebuild a more conventional way.

    Right now Kessel is a one man first line (and I’ll take an eight year deal handed to a 25 year old over a seven year deal handed to a 29 year old) so if the team can cobble together two other effective lines, a decent defense and barely acceptable goaltending they’ll be in the race for the playoffs every year and “once you’re in, anything can happen” they will tell themselves.

    Ultimately the Leafs problem is going to be that they don’t have enough players of Kessel’s calibre – and I don’t think shaving $1m off his cap hit would substantially change that. Ultimately you have to find those guys before your cap space (or lack thereof) becomes an issue, and they are scarce..

  3. hockey412 - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    So move him to Center. Done. Now, where’s my beer….

    Hey the Rangers are doing the opposite with their underperforming Centers…maybe the inverse will work with an overperforming Winger.

    • sabatimus - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      Moving someone from wing to center is nowhere near as easy as you make it sound. But then, it seems you’re in your cups.

      • hockey412 - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:47 AM

        I’m aware (despite what Edmonton would have us believe). Was purely be facetious. I guess in the end it really depends on the player, but I do agree with you.

  4. withseidelinn - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    It’s almost ridiculous to say teams have to build around a certain position to have success. Not every team is going to be able to draft or sign a premier superstar center or goalie. You need to build around your best player, whether that is a center, winger, defense man or goalie. By adding the right complimentary pieces that fit around your strongest player increases your chances of winning. The position of the player is a non factor in my opinion.

  5. Lupy Nazty Philthy - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    Great deal. $8M is on par for was players who produce at his level. In the later years of that deal, that price could be a steal. There’s no reason this is a bad deal.

    “Kessel is a winger, and the evidence says that Cup champs are built with goalies, defensemen, and centers.”

    First, someone forgot to tell that to last year’s Conn Smyth winner, RW Patrick Kane. Secondly, you have to build a team. Cups aren’t won by individual players. Third, this article implies Kessel is the only good player Toronto has. Evidence shows the Leafs have TWO good goalies now. The Defense lead the league in blocked shots, hits, and were the 2nd best PK. Considering the Leafs were the 2nd or 3rd youngest teams in the NHL last year, that’s not bad. Is it? Sounds like a team trying heading in the right direction.

    “Kessel’s far from old, but some research suggests that 25 is the peak age for NHL scorers. ”

    Good thing he turned into more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. When Toronto got him everyone said he couldn’t score without Marc Savard setting him up. People love to focus on his ‘streaky’ goal scoring, but always manage to ignore his point-per-game point totals. In the four years he’s been with the Leafs he’s 19th in total points (Ahead of Datsyuk, Tavares, Toews, Getzlaf, Nash). Considering his centers since being in Toronto have been Matt Stajan and Tyler Bozak, you can’t complain with that output. Defensively he’s not the best, but it’s hard to not notice how much he’s improved in that department since Wilson left and Carlyle came in.

    • davebabychreturns - Oct 2, 2013 at 9:29 AM

      Toronto’s going to be in tough to build a stable of effective centers, they are already at the point where they will have a hard time staying under the cap – the only really awful contract is Liles and they have no compliance buyout left, even if they did that space probably gets eaten up trying to re-sign players like Franson and Kadri in the next couple of years.

      Basically they need to hope that Kadri turns into that high end first liner and that between Bozak and Bolland and whoever else is coming up through the system they can roll two other strong lines.

      They’ve got a decent crop of wingers though, and you could do worse than trying to build a defense around Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Reilly, Gardiner and Franson.

  6. mclovinhockey - Oct 1, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    Random asinine comment filled with ignorance and arrogance!!!!

    It’s only 8 years. What can go wrong!? (Sarcasm)

  7. broadstreetsbaddest88 - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    We all have Getzlaf and Perry to thank for that or should I say Bob Murray for givin that insane price to them. It was rare to make 8 plus mil til they signed there monster contracts. Now it seams like the norm to hand 8 or more million a year to your good players.

  8. sampulls - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    MARK MY WORDS….in ~3 years, Phil will be on waivers!!!

  9. sabatimus - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    How does Jason not bring up Kessel’s complete failure as a defensive forward?

  10. purpleguy - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    One thing no one ever seems t talk about is how universally disliked Kessel seems to be by insiders and outsiders where he’s been. It was no accident he was picked last in the All-Star game. Then again, if a goal scorer is a pain, you put up with it I guess.

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