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Will Leafs Trade Phil Kessel? Bet On It At Bovada
The Toronto Maple Leafs already have had a successful offseason in hiring former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, although it took by far the biggest coaching contract in NHL history for Babcock to take over the mess that is the Leafs. Now the big question is whether the Leafs might consider trading their best player in forward Phil Kessel. Bovada lists no as a -175 favorite and yes at +125.
No GM Yet In Toronto
Expect Toronto to be busy ahead of the draft. The Leafs aren't going to name a general manager before the June 26-27 draft in Florida and there is speculation the post will remain vacant for as long as it takes team president Brendan Shanahan to find the right man to fulfil his vision.
"People are talking to us and 'heating up' is probably a good way to describe it," Shanahan said of clubs approaching the Leafs about possible deals. "(Other teams) will reach out to whomever among us they're most comfortable with."
Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas said Monday that trade talks were furthered at the NHL Scouting Combine, and reports are that forward Phil Kessel is involved.
"Last week at the Combine, we started to have a lot more conversation with other teams, and chatter starts to pick up; that's just the way it goes," Dubas said. "… I didn't know that until we got there last week, and you start to feel your way around and start to see that other teams are starting to talk now that the [NHL Draft] is coming up, the salary cap is starting to be set."
The combine for draft prospects, held in Buffalo, ended Saturday. Sportsnet reported trade discussions for Kessel picked up over the weekend, and that the Maple Leafs could be seeking draft picks and prospects for the 27-year-old right wing. Kessel has seven years left on his eight-year, $64 million contract that carries an annual NHL salary-cap charge of $8 million. He scored 25 goals and had 61 points with a minus-34 rating in 82 games this season, and has scored at least 30 goals in four of the past six seasons.
He's Still Valuable
There are not many better than Kessel at putting the puck in the net. In the past five seasons, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry have scored more than the 151 goals that Kessel has scored. It’s pretty much a sure thing that the Leafs want a first round pick in the package they get for Kessel. It would be easier to accomplish that if they make a deal in the coming weeks to acquire a 2015 draft pick.
Two teams who immediately come to mind for Kessel would be Nashville and St. Louis. Predators general manager David Poile has long been a defender of Kessel. The Leafs already own the Preds' first-round pick this year after the Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli deadline deal.
Because of the number of big-name players available and teams in need of overhaul, especially in clearing cap space, this year's draft could well be the most active in years in trading players.
The draft's top three picks are expected to be Connor McDavid to the Edmonton Oilers, Jack Eichel to the Buffalo Sabres and defenseman Noah Hanifin to the Arizona Coyotes. While the Leafs could get a solid prospect at No. 4, they could trade down or include the pick in any Kessel deal.
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