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Shanahan continues shakeup of Maple Leafs' core

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs' new direction continued Wednesday with the trade of veteran right wing Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kessel has led the Maple Leafs in scoring the past six seasons, but was traded along with minor-league center Tyler Biggs, defenseman Tim Erixon and a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft for forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Nick Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington and a first- and third-round draft pick in 2016.

Having not yet hired a general manager, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan orchestrated the trade, which he said started at the draft last week in Florida.

"I had said at the end of the season there were going to be changes," Shanahan said. "For whatever reason we had a lot of talented individuals on this team, but as a group, the core group, it hadn't worked. This is about winning. Phil is certainly a very talented player and we knew changes had to come."

Kessel, 27, has seven years remaining on the eight-year, $64 million contract he signed with the Maple Leafs. Shanahan said Toronto will retain 15 percent of Kessel's contract per season, or $1.2 million a year. He scored 25 goals and 61 points in 82 games last season but tied center Tyler Bozak with a team-worst minus-34.

Kessel helped the Maple Leafs make the playoffs once in his six seasons with Toronto, in 2012-13, when his former team, the Boston Bruins, eliminated them in seven games in the first round. Kessel played well in that series scoring four goals (two game-winners) and six points.

A durable player, Kessel missed 12 games in six seasons, during which he scored 217 goals and 454 points in 516 games.

"We gave up a heck of a player; a very, very productive player," Shanahan said. "Teams came after me about Phil because Phil is a talented player."

The restructuring of the Maple Leafs began during the regular season when former general manager Dave Nonis traded defenseman Cody Franson and forwards Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, David Clarkson and Carter Ashton. He acquired veteran center Olli Jokinen and then traded him away too.

Shanahan has been busy rebuilding the Maple Leafs. He made a significant move in June when he hired coach Mike Babcock, signing the former Detroit Red Wings coach to an eight-year contract. The Maple Leafs also signed free-agent forwards PA Parenteau and Mark Arcobello and defenseman Matt Hunwick Tuesday.

Shanahan said the trade of Kessel is noteworthy in terms of the direction the organization is taking. He said he felt the leadership group assembled in Toronto was not getting the job done, so changes were necessary. He added he didn't believe the current leadership group was going to get better in terms of the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

"This was about us saying we have to build it the right way through the draft with prospects," Shanahan said. "It stays on our messaging, which is what we were doing here as a group wasn't working and we're 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."

Shanahan said the Maple Leafs were looking for young players for the future while the Penguins were after a developed and established player who can possibly step in and make an immediate impact. It was a deal that made sense for both organizations. The trading of Kessel opens up $6.8 million of cap space for the organization over the next seven seasons.

Shanahan did not say if the Kessel deal is a sign of more trades to come. He did, however, say, "I think this will 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 every day, we are going to see what kind of people can either keep up or be left behind."

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