There was a rare animal on display during last Saturday’s National Lacrosse League Champion’s Cup: a perfectly equal trade.
The Washington Stealth rallied past the Toronto Rock for a resounding 15-11 victory. The championship was the franchise’s first ever NLL title, and was the perfect cap to the team’s inaugural season in Everett, Washington after relocating from San Jose, California.
The Rock led 7-5 at halftime and kept it up well into the third quarter. Toronto was up by four with 13 seconds left in the third, but the Stealth had two quick goals to end the period - highlighted by an empty net goal by defenceman Eric Martin with 0.2 seconds left.
Washington went on to score six consecutive goals in the final quarter to secure the Champion’s Cup.
It was a fitting end to a season that had effectively begun with all-star forward Colin Doyle being traded from the Stealth to the Rock in exchange for Lewis Ratcliff, Tyler Codron and Joel Dalgarno.
The trade was a homecoming for Doyle, who grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo area near Toronto. He had played with the Rock at the start of his career, winning five championships and earning Playoff MVP honours in 1999, 2002 and 2005. He was also the league MVP in 2005 at the zenith of Toronto’s lacrosse dynasty.
His reappearance in Toronto helped the Rock to a 9-7 regular season record and the Eastern Conference title, a major improvement over their 6-10 record in 2009 and no postseason berth.
Ratcliff, who hails from London, England but resides in British Columbia, responded well to playing on the West Coast. He scored a league-best 46 goals and was second in scoring with 97 points during the regular season.
His impact was most apparent in the championship game. Ratcliff’s five goals were rewarded with the NLL Playoff MVP honours and, of course, the Champion’s Cup itself.
Although there’s no doubt that the Toronto Rock wanted to win the NLL title, there can be no regrets about trading Ratcliff, Codron and Dalgarno for Doyle. It benefitted both sides and was remarkably even.
The Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Nashville Predators 4-3 Monday night, getting a late game-winning goal from young Phil Kessel, Brian Burke’s shiny acquisition, the cornerstone of the Age of Truculence.
Since he started playing for the Leafs (about six weeks after the trade that brought him to Toronto from Boston) he has scored 15 goals and 13 assists, and is easily the best player on the Leafs.
But I think the trade has been a terrible mistake. He doesn’t have enough help on the ice, he’s not a franchise player, and ultimately, the price was too high for Toronto.
Don’t get me wrong, he is a great player. He finds open space, sees plays developing and makes intelligent decisions with the puck. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone and demands that the other team cover him tightly, giving his teammates room to breathe.
Unfortunately, his teammates don’t seem to know what to do with that space. As a result, opposing defences have begun to take advantage of the Leafs lack of depth. They have, as defensive coaches say, begun to cheat on Kessel.
Defensive strategy relies heavily on reactive responses to an offence. Obviously, a good defence reacts to where the puck is, where the players are. But because Toronto does not have a strong secondary scoring threat, defences have taken to sealing off Kessel as soon as he’s on the ice. They know that should he pass the puck, the Leafs probably aren’t going to be able to score.
Now, there are some players who would be able to overcome that, who could make the players around them better. The kind of players that only need to be identified by their surnames: Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, Ovechkin, Brodeur, Roy. Unfortunately, Kessel just doesn’t belong there. He’s a very good hockey player, but his shoulders aren’t broad enough to carry an entire franchise.
And that, ultimately, is why trading two first round picks and a second round pick was too much for Kessel.
That’s an awfully high price, jeopardizing the Leafs for the next five or more years. Frankly, I’m not sure that I’d trade that much for any of the franchise players mentioned above, let alone Phil Kessel.
With the Leafs toiling near the bottom of the standings, the trade looks even worse. There’s a good chance that the division rival Boston Bruins landed themselves a top three pick that could mean Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, both quality players that would’ve helped the Leafs considerably, and at the rookie maximum salary instead of Kessel’s $27 million over five years.
When there were rumours that Toronto was going to trade with the Boston Bruins, that Burke might land Kessel, a proven sniper, I was ecstatic. At last, the Leafs were going to start to turn it around. Most people I knew thought that too, but my good friend Ruben and my dad both held out, saying that it was a bad trade. It took me a while, but now I see it too. Phil Kessel is a quality player, but the price the Maple Leafs paid was way too high.