Reaction in Toronto to the Kessel trade, reaction in Vancouver and Montreal to the Kassian deal, plus updates on the Oilers, Flames, Jets and Senators.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL/TORONTO STAR/TORONTO SUN: James Mirtle, Bruce Arthur and Steve Simmons offer up their thoughts on the Maple Leafs shipping talented, much-maligned winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mirtle and Arthur offered balanced opinions. They cited Kessel’s faults and strengths plus his role with the Leafs. They pointed out he deserved his share of the blame for the club’s struggles but wasn’t the sole reason for their decline, and how the trade is seen by the Leafs front office as essential to their rebuild. Simmons was more scathing, calling Kessel an infection the Leafs had to move.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I daresay many Leafs fans share Simmons caustic take, but on the whole, I believe Kessel’s tenure with the Leafs was a complicated one. The 27-year-old scorer certainly deserved his fair share of criticism, but he didn’t deserve to be made the scapegoat for the Leafs woes.
Kessel was the Leafs leading scorer in each of his six seasons with the team. Three times, he was among the league’s top-ten scorers. He accomplished this without a top-line center or any significant scoring support. In his sole playoff series with the Leafs, Kessel silenced his critics (at least for that year) with a strong performance.
The problem was the Leafs tried to turn him into a franchise player. As talented as Kessel is, he lacks the personality for that role. He should thrive in Pittsburgh skating alongside a true franchise player like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, where he won’t have to answer for the team’s struggles.
THE PROVINCE/MONTREAL GAZETTE: Tony Gallagher ripped Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning for giving up on Zach Kassian. Pat Hickey notes the 24-year-old winger’s flaws, noting the Canadiens hope he’ll become the power forward they’ve been missing.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If talk radio and Twitter are anything to go by, many Canucks fans share Gallagher’s assessment of the Kassian trade. Overlooked in the critique is the fact Kassian, for all his promise, failed to reach expectations under three coaches in Vancouver, two of whom were former Adams Trophy winners.
Sure, it’s possible Kassian could finally blossom into a power forward with the Habs, but it’s also likely he could flounder like he did with the Canucks. Right now, it’s a gamble on the Habs part. An affordable one, as Kassian only has a year at a cap hit of $1.75 million left on his contract, but still a gamble.
EDMONTON SUN: The Oilers’ free-agent additions of defenseman Andrej Sekera and center Mark Letestu adds to the perception they’re a club moving fast in the right direction.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Since April, the Oilers hired Peter Chiarelli as GM, Todd McLellan as head coach, cleaned out their scouting department, drafted Connor McDavid first overall and brought in a top-two defenseman and a skilled depth center via free agency. It’s still not a certainty the Oilers will reach the 2016 playoffs, but they should make significant strides toward contention.
CALGARY SUN: The Flames are now carrying 17 forwards, meaning they’ll have to jettison a couple of players before the 2015-16 season opens.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: While the Jets lost winger Michael Frolik to free agency, Alexander Burmistrov has returned from the KHL, agreeing to a two-year contract.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators made only minor free-agent signings on July 1, inking Eric O’Dell, Zack Stortini and Mike Kostka.