Who won the Phil Kessel to Toronto trade…five years later?

Jason Kay
Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

For a guy who doesn’t say much, Phil Kessel is the source of significant noise.

Ever since he begged out of Boston and was dealt to Toronto for a trio of high draft picks, fans and media on both sides of the equation have been debating the merits of the blockbuster.

The derisive “Thank you, Kessel” chants in Beantown remain alive and boisterous, while the Maple Leafs showed faith in their sniper by rewarding him with an eight-year, $64-million contract extension that kicks in this season.

The trade officially turns five on Sept. 18 and the question is: who has had the happier returns? As part of a recurring feature in which we re-open a cold file (ok, this one still has some burning embers) from a deal that transpired five or more years ago, we re-assess the swap.

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Future NHL stars excited to be on Upper Deck hockey cards

Darnell Nurse. (Photo courtesy of the NHLPA.)

By Michael Musalem

The next generation of NHL stars was on full display in Toronto this past Saturday, as 33 of the league’s most promising recent draftees gathered at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre for some serious face time.

The event put on by Upper Deck, the league’s official trading card partner, and the NHLPA is held each year with the purpose of photographing the prospects in their official NHL team gear for the first time, giving them all the opportunity to live out any pro’s lifelong dream of having their very own hockey card.   Read more

The top 10 players to watch in the Champions League

Washington first-rounder Jakub Vrana has already started his season (Photo by Andreas Froberg/Linkoping HC/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

If you can’t wait for the NHL season to start, maybe turn your attention to Europe, where the Champions League is off and running. The super-sized tournament for club teams features squads from all over the continent and it’s more than just a place to find fun NHL names from the recent past (Chuck Kobasew! Mikael Samuelsson!). A lot of great young talent is on display, including some top NHL prospects and draft eligibles. Below you’ll find 10 players to watch for as the tournament goes on. Not included were skaters on rosters but yet to play in a game, including 2016 prospect Patrik Laine of Finland, 2015′s Michael Spacek of the Czech Republic and Pittsburgh first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

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Backchecking: Allan Bester

The Hockey News
(Photo by John Mahler/Toronto Star)

By Richard Kamchen

Fans of Allan Bester can be forgiven if they assumed the ex-Toronto Maple Leaf netminder had become a twitching mercurial recluse in retirement. Who wouldn’t after experiencing the trauma of being a fish under siege in the Leafs’ barrel during Toronto’s dark days in the 1980s? Don Cherry wasn’t exaggerating much when he quipped Bester had seen “more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada highway.” Bester rountinely faced 40-plus shots a game as his introduction to the NHL.

“For years I’d been stopping pucks in my sleep and punching my wife in the face,” Bester jokes.

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With Tim Leiweke on his way out as CEO of MLSE, who will take over?

Rory Boylen
MLSE's CEO Tim Leiweke will remain with the organization until June of 2015, or until his successor is found. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Elliotte Friedman reported that Toronto Maple Leafs CEO Tim Leiweke would “soon” leave the organization to find a new challenge. The team and its CEO quickly denied the report, saying he was “committed” to all the franchises under MLSE’s umbrella and was “looking forward to the end of the season with TFC, and the upcoming season with the Raptors and defending our (Atlantic Division) title, and getting the Leafs back in the playoffs.”

On Thursday, Leiweke and the team announced he was in fact leaving the company.

Leiweke’s intention is to remain in the CEO’s role until June 30, 2015 or until a successor is found.

“Under Tim’s leadership, MLSE has made a number of key moves to strengthen our organization on the path to championship success,” said MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. “We look forward to working closely with Tim to build on this foundation and further accelerate our momentum as we seek a new leader for MLSE.”

It was a good time, not a long time, Leiweke spent in MLSE’s head office. The former CEO of AEG, which owns and operates the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and MLS’ Los Angeles Galaxy, made a good amount of “culture” change inside Toronto’s organizations. In the NBA, he brought in Drake as an ambassador, oversaw the team’s return to the playoffs and made inroads towards getting the Raptors a new practice facility. For the soccer team, he oversaw an aggressive off-season that landed them a few big acquisitions, such as Jermain Defoe and now Toronto FC is third in its conference with a real shot at the playoffs. The Maple Leafs didn’t make the playoffs under Leiweke’s reign, but serious, positive change came about. Brendan Shanahan was brought in to institute a new, fresh, open-minded management core, which led to such hirings as 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas and the introduction of an analytics department. Read more

Can the Maple Leafs find an advantage through their new analytics department?

Rory Boylen

The Summer of Advanced Stats continued Tuesday and again it was the Toronto Maple Leafs – a team that had long poo-pooed their importance – jumping in head-first.

As was first reported by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, the Maple Leafs are the reason everyone’s favorite hockey analytics site has gone offline. Darryl Metcalf, the founder of ExtraSkater.com, was hired by the team. But they didn’t stop there. The Maple Leafs also hired blogger Cam Charron, most recently of Yahoo Sports, and Rob Pettapiece, who worked with the junior hockey blog Buzzing the Net.

The hires come weeks after the Maple Leafs hired 28-year-old Kyle Dubas as their assistant GM. He was formerly the GM for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and is an advocate for the usage of these advanced metrics. In all, the Leafs have created a new analytics department in the organization, which Wyshynski suggested would report to Dubas.

The Leafs weren’t the only ones who dove into the analytics pool this summer, of course. The Edmonton Oilers hired Tyler Dellow, most recently of Sportsnet, in early August and the New Jersey Devils hired Sunny Mehta, a former professional poker player as their Director of Analytics. And these were just the publicized hires around the league.

The usage of analytics aren’t brand new in the NHL and some teams – like the Leafs – are playing catchup now. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, the two biggest contenders for the Stanley Cup in the past few years, have already been using these stats as a tool. Teams aren’t building their rosters by looking at spreadsheets, but these numbers are now undeniably part of the thought process.

The value of advanced stats, in any sport, is to find inefficiencies in the marketplace that aren’t immediately noticeable. When Billy Beane brought the idea to the front office of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s, he was trying to find an advantage for his small-market, small-budget team. For instance, one of the main focuses became on-base percentage instead of the traditional batting average, since OBP takes walks into account and more accurately calculated how often a player got on base. If you’re on base, you’re more likely to score. This, of course, was the Moneyball movement. Read more

Which Maple Leaf legend gets a piece of granite next to Teeder Kennedy?

Brian Costello
Teeder 2

The likeness of Teeder Kennedy will be the first Toronto Maple Leafs legend coming off the granite bench, but who’s next?

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment announced the touchstone team monument project ‘Legend’s Row’ this week saying two other players will have their likenesses join Kennedy this season and up to 10 or 11 total by the time the NHL team celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2017. The statues will be on or coming off a 30-foot granite player bench just outside the Air Canada Centre.

If the Maple Leafs were going to select and announce statues of the honored Maple Leafs starting from the head of the class, it would unfold in an order close to how THN’s The Top 100 Players of All-Time established it in 1997. An esteemed panel of 50 hockey historians and experts determined that order. Here is where players most associated with the Maple Leafs ranked on that list.

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KISS gets Leaf jerseys, confirms team’s tanking strategy

Matt Larkin

It all makes sense now.

Retain coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis after missing playoffs and posting horrible possession numbers.

Bringing in young, possession-oriented assistant GM Kyle Dubas as an understudy.

Sign a defenseman fresh off two broken legs in one year, and add many plucky veterans on tradable, one-year deals.

Lastly, get KISS Leaf jerseys before a Tuesday concert in Toronto.

Brendan Shanahan’s plan is clear now: this is a rebuild, a tank-job for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. It wasn’t a sure thing until KISS happened. Any team associating its jersey with the most overrated rock band in history has nowhere to go but down, right?

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