The Rick Nash sweepstakes turned out to be, well, not really a “sweepstakes” at all. Columbus got some warm bodies, but in truth, not much more. Nice players, as I mentioned yesterday, but nary a one who will make any Jackets fan want to buy a ticket on a cold winter night in January in Columbus.
So what actually happened? Did Glen Sather tell Howson—“Look, this is the drop-dead date. If you don’t pull the trigger, our offer is off the table…(This is my guess.) Figuring he was not, in fact, going to generate better offers than what the Rangers wouldn’t budge from, Howson blinked first—and the deal got done.
Has the NHL trading landscape changed that much from a year ago, when Philadelphia got some outstanding young talent in exchange for their captain, Mike Richards? Have the ongoing CBA talks—and a possible strike/lock-out—indeed sent a chill, causing GM’s to play it very conservatively?
Regardless, here in in the land of the Maple Leaf fan—united as we are by passion, or whatever the ad line is this month—this is what we know: The Leafs paid a lot more for Phil Kessel than the Rangers did for Rick Nash. Nash may lead the Rangers to a Stanley Cup while with Kessel, the bar here is so low we are dreaming of a playoff spot as though that would be some kind of hopeful barometer. (That’s not Kessel’s “fault”, just the reality of the situation.)
Now, I know the Burke supporters (apologists?) will run to his defense and say, hey, he had no idea that what he traded would turn out to be a 2nd and 9th overall in successive years. They will also, rightly, say that Kessel was much younger than Nash when Burke made his move.
But my point today is not to unduly criticize the Leaf GM for the Kessel trade, simply to point out some relevant facts in light of the Nash deal this week:
- With regard to the notion that Burke can’t be blamed for trading away two number-one picks in the entry draft because he was trading “picks”, not specific players: though he has often claimed he would make the same deal again even if he knew the Leafs would have second choice in the draft in the summer of 2010, clearly he didn’t think the Leafs would in fact fall that low. If his GM antenna (as opposed to his hubris) was “up”, or he was/is as good a roster evaluator as we are led to believe, he would surely have foreseen, one would think, that the Leafs would struggle that season. Giving up what turned out to be Seguin and Hamilton is, well, a ton—and not even comparable to what the Rangers just gave up for Nash.
- The third pick lost in the Kessel exchange, and the sleeper in the deal, is Jared Knight. I have no idea if he will help the Bruins some day, but maybe in Boston they think as highly of him as many here do about any number of Leaf “prospects” that we keep trumpeting. But even if he doesn’t make it, will it really matter?
- Precisely what the Leafs want right now—a legitimate top line center (Seguin) and a potential shutdown defensemen (Hamilton) is what the Leafs in fact ended up parting with to acquire Kessel. Both players could be top-end stars in Boston (and are still years away from their prime) while Kessel could end up playing elsewhere before long.
- While acquiring Kessel in his early or “pre”-prime sounded—and to a certain extent has been—very nice, what difference has it actually made for the Leafs? They finished with one of the worst records in hockey in 2011-’12, with him in the line-up.
- Comparatively-speaking, the Rangers acquired a guy with a huge contract, yes, but one who wants to be where he now is (New York) and just may be the player that puts them over the top—not just regarding “the playoffs”, which is all we talk about here, but a Stanley Cup.
- Perhaps we can agree that the “timing” of the deal is perfect for the Rangers, and the Kessel trade was maybe not such good timing for the Maple Leafs. (And we may still may lose Kessel to free-agency in two years. Even if he stays, how much should we pay to retain a guy with a mostly one-way game?)
On that note, do you have the sense that Phil wants to buy a home here?
In any event, making deals is not easy. We all know that. We all (almost all? I certainly did…) liked the Phaneuf deal when it was announced. And the Lupul/Gardiner acquisition looks sweet. But it’s hard not to look at what the Rangers just gave up for a bona fide high-end winger, widely considered a “star” and then compare that with what Burke gave up for an emerging sniper in Kessel not that long ago.
Different times, different circumstances, for sure. But, wow….