We gather here today to bury the notion that Maple Leaf general manager Brian Burke blew it when he traded for Phil Kessel a little over two years ago.
The Toronto sniper continues to silence his critics with a sizzling start to the National Hockey League season, notching an assist in Tuesday night’s 7-1 Leaf demolition of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida.
The Leaf forward with the heavy shot continues to lead the NHL in points with 30 and in goals with 16, four better than his closest rivals, James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Milan Michalek of the surprising Ottawa Senators.
As the NHL’s premier offensive star, Kessel is flirting with a bit of history here, ancient history.
It has been so long since a member of the Leafs has finished a season atop the NHL’s scoring ladder that the Art Ross Trophy, the hardware handed out each year to the scoring leader, had not even come into existence yet.
Gordie Drillon was the last Leaf to lead the NHL scoring pack, way back in 1938 when he finished with 52 points (26 goals, 26 assists) during a 48-game regular season.
To put that in perspective, Johnny Bower was a young lad of just 14 at the time. It would be another nine years before the Art Ross was first associated with NHL scoring supremacy.
Kessel’s fast start is big news for a Leafs team that over the years hasn’t exactly been endowed with great scoring prowess.
Remember when Rick Vaive became the first Leaf to tally 50 goals in one year during the 1981-82 season and how that was such a big deal even though most other NHL clubs already had a player who had been there, done that? The Leafs were the last of the Original Six clubs to produce a 50-goal scorer.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last Leaf to be leading the NHL in goals or points this late in a season was Dave Andreychuk and Mats Sundin respectively.
Andreychuk led the league in goals (52) through games of March 26 during the 1993-94 season and Sundin was co-leader in points (36) through games of Dec. 3rd during the 1996-97 season.
Who knows if Kessel, who will admit that he’s never even heard of Drillon before, can continue the torrid pace he has set for himself during the early portion of the NHL schedule?
It is interesting to note that his scoring efficiency has elevated in a year when his defensive play has been lauded as one of the reasons why the Leafs continue to play well.
Burke was heavily criticized when he made the trade for Kessel back in Sept. of 2009, giving up two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder to the Boston Bruins in exchange.
One of the picks turned out to be Bruins sophomore Tyler Seguin, who is turning out to be a pretty fair player in his own right.
But with Kessel’s continuing offensive prowess playing a large role in perhaps landing the Leafs in the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04, it’s time to start crediting Burke for a trade well done.