Phil Kessel trade: Winners and losers of Leafs, Penguins blockbuster

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Phil Kessel trade: Winners and losers of Leafs, Penguins blockbuster
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The Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with Tyler Biggs and defenseman Tim Erixon in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling, Scott Harrington and a 2016 third-round draft pick previously acquired from New Jersey, as well as a complicated scenario in which other picks will change hands. 

Who won the trade? Who lost the trade? Here’s our take:

WINNER: Phil Kessel

Since he arrived in Toronto, only four players have more goals that Kessel’s 156 in 446 games. The idea that his setup man will now be either Sidney Crosby (most likely) or Evgeni Malkin is indeed a scary thought. Granted, we still have to see how his style – he and Crosby both like the puck – meshes with his new teammates, but 40 goals is the floor for what to expect from Kessel. 

LOSER: Phil Kessel

The Maple Leafs were a bad, bad situation and Kessel’s attitude was certainly commiserate with it. His minus-34 disaster of a season could be chalked up to that of a tire fire, but now he’s gone from outhouse to penthouse. No excuses left, and Crosby’s not going to stand for a lack of consistent effort. Oh, and anyone who thinks he's now third-fiddle and out of the spotlight doesn't understand how the Pittsburgh media works. 

WINNER: Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin

They wanted more elite offensive talent on this roster, and they got arguably the second-best scoring winger in the game behind Alex Ovechkin. The Penguins were 19th in 5-on-5 scoring last season; part of that was their system under Mike Johnston, but Kessel was second in the NHL in even-strength goals in 2013-4 with 29 – behind only Ovechkin. This move helps their offense is a huge way. 

LOSER: Tyler Bozak

Bozak was nearly a 50-point center three times with his best bud on his wing with the Buds. One assumes he’ll revert to being The Other Guy in Wham! now that Kessel’s gone. (And one assumes Bozak will be as well.)

WINNER: Jim Rutherford

The embattled general manager targeted Kessel, presented one of the only logical landing spots for Kessel, managed to get him without giving up prized defensive prospect Derek Pouliot and had the Leafs pick up some salary. Not a bad day, especially in making his stars happy.

LOSER: Pittsburgh’s Depth

That said, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the blue line and in the bottom six for the Penguins before they can truly contend with the NHL’s best. But Kessel addresses a huge need.

WINNER: Leafs Salary Cap

The Leafs retained salary, $1.2 million against the cap through 2022, but they also open up $6.8 million and subtract a player that clearly was at the end of his journey in Toronto. New coach, new regime, fresh start and more cap space.

LOSER: Chris Kunitz

At some point, someone is going to have to be sacrificed in the name of cap room for the Penguins, who only have eight forwards signed, need another defenseman and have just $6.4 million open.

WINNER: Gary Roberts

The NHL fitness guru, credited with turning players like Steven Stamkos into specimens, will tackle perhaps his greatest challenge: Working with Kessel and changing his diet.

LOSERS: Toronto Mitten-stringers

The Toronto media loses their favorite target of derision. No word if there will be a special section in tomorrow’s Toronto Star dedicated to the memory of Phil Kessel’s Attitude Problem.

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