Leafs president Brendan Shanahan spoke to the media on Wednesday on a busy first day of free agency. Here's what he had to say...
Was this as busy as you anticipated being on the trade front?
Well, talks heated up during the draft a little bit. I knew that I had a feeling that today — Jim Rutherford and I had been going back a little bit before the draft, a little bit at the draft so I had a sense that something could happen today and it did.
Was this a deal that was too good to pass up or did discussions with Kessel's camp indicate it wasn't going to work out?
I said at the end of the season there were going to be changes. For whatever reason we had a lot of talented individuals on this team but as a group, the core group, it wasn't working. This is about winning, Phil is certainly a very talented player but we knew changes had to come. I thank him for his six years here, very productive years for him and that's why a guy like Jim Rutherford with a team that is poised to take a run at the Stanley Cup had such interest in him. I think it's a good fit for Phil but at the same time it stays on our messaging, which is that what we were doing here as a group wasn't working and we were setting a bit of a new direction for our club, building it differently. In order to do that, sometimes you have to give up some very talented players to get some assets and picks and it's our job now to turn those into things of value for this club moving forward.
How do these players fit into your plan?
Obviously we've created a lot of cap space for us to give some flexibility going forward. Some of the players we've picked up are young guys just starting their careers, it's our job to help them develop, it's our job to turn the picks into prospects and it's our job to turn those prospects into productive Leafs.
How tough was it to get to a point where you were comfortable with the return on Kessel?
It is tougher in this day and age — the trade partners I find are often in different positions in their own development so it just worked out that we were looking for players for the future and Pittsburgh was looking for a player that could fit their need for the present. It took a little bit of work obviously, a lot of going back and forth between Jim and I and what we thought was a fair deal for both. At the end of the day both clubs sort of set forth on what their direction was.
Can you talk about Kapanen and what you think his upside is?
He's one of the youngest players that was drafted two years ago. He came over this past year and played a little bit in the American League and in the playoffs. Talented guy, top-six forward we're hoping. He adds to a group of players in our stable that, again, with a lot of work and a lot of patience and some development, we hope he becomes a very productive Leaf at some point.
What does this say about the direction of the team with trading someone like Phil?
Well it says, again, what I had said at the end of the season. This is really about a recognition on our part that what we have been doing here and the group we had assembled here wasn't getting the job done and wasn't good enough. We want to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup and there are no shortcuts to go around doing that. We didn't see that this group was going to get a whole lot better in getting us towards that goal. Going out and hiring a coach like Mike Babcock was a huge bonus for us. This was really about us going out and saying we've got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that may take a little bit longer. We gave up a heck of a player, a very productive player and, like I said, I thank him very much for his time here.
Were there any discussions between Mike Babcock and Kessel?
Mike spoke to all of the players.
Why don't you think it worked out here for Kessel?
There can be a lot of theories as to why it didn't work out for this group. I think that he had productive years, he's a talented player, this wasn't about singling out one guy because we're trying to pin the blame on one guy. Teams came after me about Phil because Phil is a talented player. It was really, again, I go back to the end of the season when I said after watching for a year, it was my belief and the belief of our management team that the way our team was assembled going forward wasn't going to get much better. It wasn't going to be the type of team that we felt was going to challenge for a Stanley Cup at some point. Changes had to be made.
Does this get the ball rolling on other core guys who may be moved out this offseason?
I don't know if it's ball rolling, this was an opportunity to make a deal that I thought made sense for Pittsburgh and made sense for Toronto. I don't know if it's ball rolling. We're still going about being very busy planning for this season with the players we have.
How do you characterize the leadership on this team? Is it an evolving thing?
I think it is evolving and this will certainly be a shock to a lot of the players and a message to our group. Mike Babcock getting hired and what he will bring to that group, we're going to see what kind of people can either keep up or be left behind. I think some of Mike's statements last week at the draft were fantastic. We want to have great people here, we want to develop great people. I think as we move forward and as these guys get to know Mike a bit better, he's going to challenge them. He's going to support them but he's also going to challenge them.
Was there anything in Phil's play that made this trade easier than a year ago?
I don't think this had anything to do with the last 20 or 30 games. I think that when you recognize that a group is not going to get to the ultimate place you want it to be you put out a message to the rest of the world at the end of the season that you're willing to make changes and your most talented players are the ones teams are going to call. Not every team had the room, not every team can make a trade like that, as you said it's very difficult when you're talking about that much term but we were able to have discussions and able to find a trade partner.
Why did you decide to retain some of his salary?
Obviously we made a decision that we had to do that and we weren't going to be able to make that move without retaining some of his salary. We've retained 15 per cent, $1.2 million over the course. Would you like to no retain any? Of course, but some of the other people we were talking to were asking for more. We thought this was the best deal we had.
Was there a premium on putting character into the room and did you achieve that today?
Certainly when you talk to Mike or listen to Mike Babcock, that's going to be a big focus and a big demand of him. We like some of the players we acquired and we don't expect any of them to go out and produce right now as Phil currently does. We like some of the people and we want to give them a chance to develop.
Are there a lot more changes you want to be making?
I think it's a big change to our club and our direction for sure. Even just obtaining $6.8 million in cap space over the next seven years. Phil was a big part of that dressing room, it's a big change. Where we need to be, we're still a long way from being there. We still have a lot of work to do.
Can you talk about Parenteau, Hunwick and Harrington?
P-A Parenteau is coming here on a one-year deal with a lot to prove, he's a motivated guy. I think he's excited about coming here. Harrington is somebody that Mark Hunter was very familiar with, a character player. Hunwick, again, another guy that Mike Babcock was pretty familiar with with, a character guy that comes to work every day. We do like some of the individuals we've added to the dressing room core.
How do you think the management group performed today?
I think really on a trade like this, this is really about what we do with some of the assets we've obtained. Whether it's players, a first round pick from last year like Kapanen or what we do with the pick when we have it in 2016 or 2017, the picks we've obtained, that's really the challenge for us. We've been given assets and now it's up to us to make something out of them. Usually on trades like this it satisfies what Pittsburgh needs today and we hope with hard work it satisfies what we need tomorrow.