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Dreger: ‘In Kessel’s case, I firmly believe he’s going to be traded’

Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs

Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs

NHLI via Getty Images

“In Kessel’s case, I firmly believe he’s going to be traded.”

That was TSN/NBC insider Darren Dreger this morning on TSN 1050 (audio), talking about Toronto winger Phil Kessel.

Kessel, as you probably know, has been mired in a horrendous slump, and Dreger concedes that the 27-year-old’s “trade potential has been hurt by his poor play; I don’t think there’s any question of that.”

Kessel is also signed through 2021-22 for a cap hit of $8 million, a contract that won’t be the easiest to move for a return befitting his abilities as a goal-scorer. The Leafs may have to cover some of his salary, or take a bad contract back, to get a deal done.

But unless Toronto wins the draft lottery and gets Connor McDavid, after all the collapses and disappointment and controversies the Leafs have endured since he joined them in 2009, it’s getting harder and harder to picture Kessel back with the team next season.

The same goes for captain Dion Phaneuf.

Both players, currently still in their primes, could help other teams. The Leafs, though...the Leafs are just a bad situation, one that’s unlikely to turn around overnight. And fair or not, both Kessel and Phaneuf are symbols of the franchise’s failures. And that’s not good for the brand.

Even if Toronto does get McDavid, it might be the right move to trade the two core pieces former GM Brian Burke acquired to build around. As we wrote last month, “The point shouldn’t be to win these next few years anyway. It should be to help Morgan Rielly develop into a Norris Trophy candidate, of which he’s got the potential, and to bring William Nylander into the fold.”

The Leafs host Minnesota tonight. Their season from hell has just nine games left.

Related: Horachek, Kessel apparently disagree on Leafs’ effort level