Phil Kessel

Kessel on moving on from Toronto: ‘It’s a different world there’

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After six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel is looking forward to a fresh start. The 27-year-old was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a multi-player trade on Wednesday.

Kessel appeared in 446 regular season games with the Leafs scoring 181 goals and 394 points.

“It should be different. It’s a different world there,” Kessel told Dkonpittsburghsports.com. “Obviously, I’m looking forward to this and having a fresh start. I’m actually really excited about that part of it.

“Toronto was a place I loved, and it’s not easy leaving that, even with everything else. That’s the first thought. And then after that, I just see this as an opportunity, a great opportunity to be part of something special in Pittsburgh.”

Kessel is especially excited at the prospect of playing with the talented mix of forwards in Pittsburgh.

“For it to be Pittsburgh … with everything that franchise has meant and two of the best players in the world there … I never would have thought I’d have the chance to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to play on a team like the Penguins,” he said. “It’s just amazing. I’m so pumped.”

During his time in Toronto Kessel played in just one playoff series scoring four goals in six points during the Leafs first round series with the Boston Bruins in 2013. A return to postseason hockey is something the Madison, WI native is looking forward to.

“That’s huge. Obviously, when you have a chance to play on a great team, you’re thrilled. Being in Toronto, I got to play in one playoffs in all my years there,” Kessel said. “But that’s the best time of the year, right? Playoff hockey. Hopefully, I’ll get to play in many in Pittsburgh.”

Kessel also believes his game is suited for Pens’ coach Mike Johnston’s system and that he’ll fit in well.

“I think it’ll mesh well. I like to score goals, but I also like to pass the puck,” he said. “In today’s game, you need to have options when you have the puck. And with defensemen like we have joining the rush in Mike’s system, and those guys are great players, yeah, that’ll work with my game. I take a lot of pride in my ability to work with the options I’ve got.”

For those wondering, the Pens and Leafs meet for the first time on Oct. 17 in Pittsburgh. Kessel will make his return to Toronto on Oct. 31.

Kessel trade shows Leafs are trying to ‘build this thing the right way’

Official Announcement Of Mike Babcock As Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach
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In the words of Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, here’s why Phil Kessel was traded today:

“This is really about a recognition on our part that what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that. We didn’t see that this group was going to get a whole lot better, in getting us toward that goal.

“Going out and hiring a coach like Mike Babcock was a huge bonus for us, so this was really about us saying, once again, we’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

So basically the same thing Shanahan said in April, and the same thing Babcock said in May.

While Shanahan conceded today that they “gave up a heck of a player…a very, very productive player,” Kessel is also 27 years old. Theoretically, by the time the Leafs hit their sweet spot in terms of competing for the Cup (assuming they ever do), Kessel will be past his prime, if he’s not already. 

Going forward, expect the Leafs to continue dismantling their flawed core. Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, and maybe even James van Riemsdyk; they could all be traded.

And any others that don’t fit into the club’s long-term plans, them too.

Related: Babcock lays down the law — ‘Anything that’s been going on is going to get cleaned up’

Blockbuster: Kessel traded to the Penguins

150701-Phil-Kessel
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In a blockbuster deal that’s been rumored for some time now, the Toronto Maple Leafs have traded winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The return is a couple of well-regarded prospects, forward Kasperi Kapanen (22nd overall in 2014) and defenseman Scott Harrington (54th overall in 2011), plus a conditional first-round draft pick, a third-round draft pick (previously New Jersey’s) and forward Nick Spaling.

The Leafs also sent the Penguins defenseman Tim Erixon, forward Tyler Biggs and a conditional second-round draft pick.

Much has been said and written about Kessel’s time in Toronto, not all positive. But in Pittsburgh, he’ll be able to skate with two of the best centers in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The 27-year-old played mostly with Tyler Bozak as his center with the Leafs.

Kessel, one of the NHL’s premier scoring wingers, has 247 goals in 668 career NHL games.

The Leafs were reportedly forced to eat $1.25 million of Kessel’s annual salary, leaving the Pens with a $6.75 million cap hit through 2021-22.

Related: Are we seeing the last of Kessel in Toronto?

Shanahan on Kessel: ‘There’s been a lot of interest’

The Toronto Maple hold their post season media availibility and team President Brendan Shanahan holds a press conference to answer questions
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Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan admitted on Thursday that there has been significant interest on the availability of winger Phil Kessel, but on the eve of the NHL Draft, there’s no concrete offer on the table.

“He’s probably garnered the most interest. He’s probably the player that’s gotten the most phone calls,” Shanahan said on Thursday in Florida. “I think there’s some competition out there amongst teams that want him, that want other players of ours, and we might keep him. We’re not really committing to anything one way or another right now.

“We have time on our side. We don’t feel we have to do anything knee-jerk on some self-imposed or outer-imposed deadline.”

Reports have suggested the Pittsburgh Penguins are amongst the teams interested in the 27-year-old’s services.

Kessel has a list of eight teams he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause for, and according to Shanahan trade talks have not progressed to the point of contacting the player.

“Until we have a deal, there’s no point involving any players,” he said. “It’s mostly, up until now, just been talk and progression of talk. I don’t think we’ve been at a point where there’s a definitive offer out there, but there’s been some really encouraging conversations that have started weeks ago and have grown and are continuing to grow.”

Kessel’s eight-year, $64 million deal carries an $8 million cap hit for the next seven seasons.

By his standards Kessel had an off year in 2014-15.

He scored 25 goals and 61 points in 82 games and finished with a minus-34 rating. It was his lowest goal total in an 82-game season since 2007-08 (his second year in the league).

“When you have a guy like that, who is such a natural goal-scorer in the prime of his career, everybody wants goal-scoring,” said Shanahan. “Obviously in a cap world it’s not as easy for everybody to fit that player in as there used to be in the old days. But he’s a great player and a great goal-scorer; great finisher so there’s been a lot of interest.”

Related: Report: Leafs would take a contract back in a Kessel trade

Report: Leafs would take a contract back in a Kessel trade

The Toronto Maple hold their post season media availibility and team President Brendan Shanahan holds a press conference to answer questions
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There’s more than one way to grease the wheels for a big trade.

When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Phil Kessel, all sorts of details have been seeping through. Will Toronto need to retain some of his salary to make a move? Might Kessel block a trade that doesn’t suit his interests? Are the Buds asking for too much?

In his always-essential “30 Thoughts” column, Elliotte Friedman notes that the Maple Leafs would be willing to eat salary in a more direct way: by taking a contract from another team to make a deal happen.

There are some caveats, though:

Toronto’s let it be known it will take salary back for Phil Kessel, but there is a limit. It’s got to be less (in term and value) than Kessel’s. The Maple Leafs are more interested in prospects and draft picks, but recognize that alone won’t get a deal done. Since the idea is to help create cap flexibility, it doesn’t make sense to receive a similar contract in return.

With an $8 million cap hit (not to mention $10 million in salary for 2015-16), it should be no surprise that the 27-year-old would be too expensive to trade for picks alone.

The Maple Leafs might need to get creative, and considering their deal for Nathan Horton’s dead money – not to mention other progressive recent decisions – it wouldn’t be shocking to see them jump through a few hoops to find a trade partner.

You know, assuming that the many rumors are true, of course.