COLUMBUS, Ohio – The NHL didn’t give much guidance to All-Star Game captains Jonathan Toews and Nick Foligno in Friday night’s Fantasy Draft, outside of when to have all of their goalies taken and when they had to fill out their defense.
But the League asked the teams for one thing: The first trade in the history of the All-Star draft.
So the players decided to revisit one of the most controversial trades in NHL history: The Phil Kessel Trade.
“We wanted to make some history, and there’s definitely history with those two guys,” said Rick Nash, alternate captain for Team Toews.
On Sept. 19, 2009, the Boston Bruins traded high-scoring winger Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three draft picks – two first-rounders and a second rounder. Kessel, then 21, was a restricted free agent in a contract stalemate with the Bruins. Leafs GM Brian Burke wanted to make a statement, and aggressively traded away future assets for him.
For a while, it looked like that statement would be “whoops.” The Leafs tumbled to the bottom of the standings, giving the Bruins the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. They drafted center Tyler Seguin, won the Stanley Cup with him, and then took highly regarded defenseman Dougie Hamilton with the other first rounder.
Whenever the Leafs would enter TD Garden, chants of “THANK YOU, KESSEL!” would echo.
Five years later, the deal has of course take on new dynamics. Seguin was traded by Boston and is now a star with the Dallas Stars. Kessel has grown into one of the NHL’s most lethal snipers (as well as a frequent target of the Toronto media). Both made the 2015 NHL All-Star roster this season.
On Friday night, Kessel was actually the first player selected by Jonathan Toews’ team. It was a nice bit of symmetry, considering he was the last player selected in the inaugural fantasy draft in 2011.
“He’s a heck of a player, no doubt about that,” said Toews, who hilariously called Kessel one of the most “coachable” players in the League, in a shot at the Toronto media’s critiques.
Seguin was selected fifth overall by Team Foligno, with alternate captain Patrick Kane noting the two played in Switzerland together during the 2012 lockout.
Later, after the teams picked their rookie representatives and the draft went to commercial, the time was right to start talking trade.
“We were trying to find a good time to do it, and we thought after the commercial was a good time. We were looking for something with history, something with backstory. I think everyone knows about Kessel being traded from Boston,” said Kane.
“Once we were told they wanted a trade, we figured it out pretty quickly.”
So Foligno did his best Gary Bettman and said the teams had a trade to announce.
Seguin and Kessel swapped jerseys. The Phil Kessel Trade 2.0 was complete.
“I was heartbroken about that one,” said Toews, tongue firmly in check. “Didn’t think it was going to come to that point, and had to go with it. It’s part of the business, trading guys you feel strongly about.”
Seguin was unavailable for comment after the draft. But Kessel was.
“Been there before. Got traded for the same person. And I think it worked out OK for everyone,” he said.
Thank you, Kessel.