If you think for a moment that the Maple Leafs would ever have a hard time dealing away Phil Kessel because of his contract, think again.
"Are you kidding me?" said one rival Western Conference team executive a few days ago. "If they ever auctioned him off there would be a lot of interest regardless of that contract. The guy can score. It’s hard to find those guys."
It’s believed the Leafs have already heard from a number of teams that have made it clear, if Kessel was indeed in play, they’d be interested. Still, I have to think if and when Toronto went that route -- and I’m not saying it will for sure -- it would be more of a June thing where you can include more teams in the process.
At the end of the day, Leafs management knew weeks ago, even before the bulk of their team's 3-13-0 downfall, that they weren’t good enough to be short-term buyers before the trade deadline. That’s why, regardless of where the Leafs are in terms of a playoff spot closer to March 2, the plan most likely is to go long term with any move, no band-aid/rental wanted here.
In the bigger picture, you must keep in mind what has transpired since Brendan Shanahan took over last spring. The front office has largely been redone with a huge focus on player development and drafting. The real goal here is to ensure that the Leafs drastically improve how they draft and develop players. It means more patience is required from a fan base that certainly has been extremely patient through a decade of futility.
But the only real route to turning around this franchise has less to do with trades (although that’s still important) and more to do with drafting and developing. That takes time.
Hang in there, Leafs fans.