Could a Toronto Maple Leafs Legend Return to the Franchise?

Phil Kessel #81 of the Arizona Coyotes (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)
Phil Kessel #81 of the Arizona Coyotes (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images) /

Phil Kessel was a star for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now playing on an expiring contract, could he return to the team in the near future?

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a splash in 2009 when they mortgaged their future to acquire Phil Kessel. General Manager Brian Burke sent the Boston Bruins the Maple Leafs 2010 first-round pick (used to select Tyler Seguin), a 2011 first-rounder (turned into Dougie Hamilton), and a 2010 second-round selection (used to pick Jared Knight).

Kessel lasted six years in Toronto before being shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His time was filled with goals and hot dog jokes. The Madison, Wisconsin native was the sniper Burke wanted, though he was never surrounded with the right pieces to create a successful team.

In fact, Kessel only made the playoffs once in Toronto (where the team lost in devastating fashion to the Bruins in Game 7 of the first round). Despite the lack of a winning track record, the idea of bringing Phil the Thrill back to the Maple should be exciting to Maple Leafs fans but is it feasible?

Toronto Maple Leafs and Phil Kessel

The big question is whether the timing is right to re-acquire Kessel prior to the March 21 NHL trade deadline. It’s hard deny the impact that he would have playing in this current Leafs lineup. Most likely, Kessel would be an instant fit on Captain John Tavares’ wing, adding yet another viable scoring threat or at the very least, be a presence on the third line.

The trouble for the Toronto Maple Leafs isn’t even the price it would take to pry Kessel from the Arizona Coyotes. Instead, Kyle Dubas’s biggest concern would be to fit the right-winger’s bloated contract, with an $8M AAV, under the salary cap. The deal was negotiated by Kessel’s camp and Leafs GM Dave Nonis eight years ago, which includes a no-movement clause. With the Leafs already paying $1.2M in retained salary (from when Kessel was traded to the Penguins), it leaves a remaining $6.8M cap hit to somehow fit on the books. The truth is, without making a significant move to bring this rental to town, the Leafs will not be able to find that cap space.

The trade deadline isn’t the only way for Kessel make his way back to the Big Smoke. The best move for Dubas would be to wait until the offseason and sign the two-time Stanley Cup winner as a free agent.

For the Leafs, it would make sense to bring in the veteran presence on a reasonable contract. He is still productive, with 32 points in 48 games this season. Adding depth scoring would make the Leafs an even more dangerous team.

Kessel is now seven years removed from playing for the Buds and his role would be far different than his original run. Returning to the city, he wouldn’t be as pivotal to the team’s success as he was during his first tour in Toronto when he was the club’s centerpiece player. This suggests that Kessel wouldn’t need to be out front of the media with the same degree of frequency as he once was. With this out of the way, donning the Toronto Maple Leafs crest may be far more appealing than it once was.

What could excite Kessel to play with the Leafs is the current roster of talent that Dubas has collected. Knowing that he would have the opportunity to play alongside productive players could add longevity to his career.

Additionally, Kessel has the opportunity to crack the top-100 all-time NHL goal scorers and top-100 point leaders. He currently sits at 397 career goals, which is just five behind John Ogrodnick’s 402, the 100th most goals all-time. Kessel is also just 33 points shy of matching Maurice Richard’s 966 career points, making him 100th all-time. In order to really cement his legacy, Kessel needs 81 more points to pass Pat LaFontaine to make him the tenth ranked American born all-time point leaders in the NHL.

To reach that marker, he will need to play with linemates who can produce. The Maple Leafs have the players that could help Kessel pickup the needed points within a couple years.

Mock NHL Entry Draft 2022. dark. Next

There is no doubt that Leafs fans would welcome Kessel back with open arms. He would quickly become a favourite to many in the city once again and add a valuable presence to the on-ice makeup of the club. It’s time to bring the legend home.