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Different look Leafs following Day 1 of NHL Free Agency

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs were active on the first day of NHL Free Agency. While they added players like defenceman Matt Hunwick and forwards P-A Parenteau and Mark Arcobello as well as the return of Daniel Winnik, it was trading their most expensive asset that began the course of a different looking Maple Leafs.

Phil Kessel is a Leaf no longer. Toronto parting ways with the right winger they acquired in September of 2009, Kessel was one of the more polarizing Maple Leafs. When he was producing, he was at the centre of high praise. When he wasn’t, he drew the ire of criticism of all sorts.

Going to Toronto is Kasperi Kapanen, a right wing prospect that was selected 22nd overall in the 2014 draft. Nick Spaling, a centre who played in all 82 regular season games with the Pens last season. Defensive prospect Scott Harrington also comes over. He spent the last two seasons with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His junior years were in London, which fits well with Leafs Co-Interim GM Mark Hunter’s vision. Pittsburgh’s 2016 first round pick will go to Toronto as well as a third round pick.

The Penguins received Kessel, along with forward prospect Tyler Biggs and recently re-signed defenceman Tim Erixon. A second round pick previously acquired by the Leafs will go back to Pittsburgh as part of the deal.

Make no mistake. The best player of this trade goes to Pittsburgh. In Kessel, the Pens get a perennial scorer and an ironman. Since making his Leafs debut in November 2009, Kessel suited up for all 446 games. That doesn’t include all seven games in playoffs against the Boston Bruins in 2013. Kessel should thrive in his new environment.

“Phil is certainly a talented player but we knew changes had to come,” said Leafs President Brendan Shanahan. “It’s now our job to turn those players into value for this club moving forward.”

The Leafs vision right now is the build slowly. Now the cupboard is starting to get loaded with all kinds of talent. The return on investment will take some time. But they are doing it the right way.

This is the first player personnel move that reaffirms the Leafs message last spring. Phil Kessel has been moved and more may be coming.

Last week during the NHL Draft, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock stressed accountability from his players going forward. Included in that was owning your play. Facing the media on a regular basis is part of that.

“This may be a shock to our group. Some of Mike’s statements he made at the draft I thought were fantastic,” said Shanahan. “We want to have great people here. As guys get to Mike, he will challenge them. He will support them but he will also challenge them.”

The players the Leafs acquired on day one of free agency will be looking to carve a regular role with the team in September. One of those is P.A. Parenteau, a forward recently bought out by the Montreal Canadiens.

“P.A. Parenteau is coming here on a one-year deal with a lot to prove” said Shanahan.

Come September, everyone on Leafs will be at that same level. Everything to prove.

Arguably the hardest working Leaf last year, Daniel Winnik returns to Toronto on a two-year deal. His versatility allowed for players around him to excel and he was a key asset during the trade deadline. His character will fit right in.

Expect Winnik to have a big leadership role under Shanahan.

The Leafs, as you know them, are changing.

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