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Apparently Phil Kessel is the Maple Leafs’ big problem

Mar 21, 2012, 11:06 AM EDT

Phil Kessel Getty Images

After seeing the Maple Leafs lose on home ice to the Islanders and hearing fans calling for Brian Burke to be fired during the game, you know that things are ugly in Toronto. After coming apart at the seams in the second half, the fans are out for blood after another playoff-free season.

As these situations tend to go, the best player takes most of the heat and Phil Kessel is not exempt from scrutiny. Jeff Blair of The Globe And Mail hammers on Kessel for not being a bigger figure with the media and seizing the spotlight.

He has no goaltender, his leading scorer is a milquetoast, Tom Thumb guy who shrinks even further in front of the cameras and nobody knows for certain whether his team captain has credibility in the dressing room.

Just a reminder here, Kessel has 36 goals and 40 assists on a team that’s now destined for the NHL draft lottery. That kind of production on a bad team should give you leeway to be Silent Bob if you want to be.

Meanwhile, Mike Brophy of Sportsnet wonders aloud if now is the time for the Leafs to trade Kessel.

Never mind what anybody tells you about Kessel having developed greater attention to his defensive play this season; that simply is not the case. He is still a floater who, more often than not comes back slowly looking for the first opportunity to make a quick pivot and head back up ice. In terms of work ethic, he will never be mistaken for Sidney Crosby.

Considering the lack of offensive weapons on the Leafs roster, asking Kessel to be yet another backchecking wizard seems counterproductive. This debate is eerily reminiscent of how Kessel and Claude Julien fell on hard times in Boston and that’s what helped spin Kessel into this quagmire of nonsense in Toronto.

Instead of worrying about what’s wrong with Phil Kessel, the Leafs should worry about how to surround him with better players to win games.

  1. gbiscottagecheesefatties - Mar 21, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    Man I feel bad for this guy.

    Have you seen anyone get shat on for honestly doing nothing? Talk about being apart of the wrong trade and going to the wrong city and having everyone in the media talk about you, when clearly you are not the problem. Crazy.

    • amerika1313 - Mar 21, 2012 at 11:21 AM

      Agreed. I mean, did anyone ever claim that Kessel was a two-way player? Did the Leafs really think they were getting a guy who was a defensive late bloomer? You can’t expect him to be what he never was and never claimed to be. They need to surround him with complimentary talents and it just doesn’t seem to have worked. I don’t think Kessel should take any blame at all. Not with the numbers he’s put up.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:16 PM

        It’s unfortunate that he gets this treatment from the media because the fans certainly don’t feel the same hatred for him. He’s actually the only guy that makes the arena buzz every time the puck’s on his stick. The fans don’t want to see him go, he’s one of the only exciting guys to watch on this team .

  2. blurr1974 - Mar 21, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    The Toronto media confuses being adversarial with the Leafs as being unbiased. Although the coverage is saturated, it’s to the point where those in the media need to create stories, rather than report them. Everything is a HUGE issue for the media, and as a fan of the Leafs not living in Toronto, it’s painfully obvious to see that the media market is, for all it’s wall-to-wall coverage, a poor one.

    There are far better and more interesting stories being written about other teams in the league, than there are in Toronto. In Toronto, the media is part of the story. They constantly create these issues claiming “the fans” are the ones saying them, but that is rarely (if ever) the case. It’s controversy created for ratings, not journalism.

    All of that is not to say that there aren’t some Leafs fans who believe the team should trade Kessel, but there are always fans of every team like that. Ones who are never happy, or have a grudge against a player for no other reason than they don’t like him. But that’s why a team isn’t run by fans who are at the mercy of their emotional whims. It’s also why a team isn’t run to please the media.

    The saying amongst most Leafs fans I know or converse with is that, if the Leafs were to ever win the Cup again, the first story in Toronto would be about what the team did wrong despite the outcome. If they won in 5, the story would be asking why they couldn’t win in 4. It’s faux rage, it’s garbage.

    Sports journalism in Toronto is the National Enquirer of the profession.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:19 PM

      Well said, sir, well said.

    • vanchuk - Mar 21, 2012 at 5:44 PM

      “The saying amongst most Leafs fans I know or converse with is that, if the Leafs were to ever win the Cup again, the first story in Toronto would be about what the team did wrong despite the outcome. If they won in 5, the story would be asking why they couldn’t win in 4. It’s faux rage, it’s garbage.”

      There is a similar saying in Vancouver:

      If Luongo walked on water, the headline in the paper the next day would be “Luongo can’t swim!”

  3. tmoore4075 - Mar 21, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    He’s not the problem but when they are no better than when they got him I understand the spotlight. Surround him with talent and you’ll get better. However Seguin and Hamilton probably look good right now. But you can’t blame Kessel for that. That person is in the front office.

  4. dolanster - Mar 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    They are a mess and Phil is not a take-the-team-on-his-back leader. He’s a skill guy, not a fire-in-the-belly guy, which is why Boston considered him expendable. Ditto Jumbo Joe, who’s had the same record of success in San Jose that he had as a Bruin. Zippo. The Boston media still calls going pointless in a series “the full Thornton” so Kessel has almost gotten off easy, although tmoore is right, once Hamilton is logging 22 minutes at the blue line the enormity of this swindle will make people shake their heads. I do feel bad for Phil, he’s not the problem in Toronto. He’s just not the solution either.

    • sjhesketh - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      Only one guy uses that “Going Thornton” phrase and he’s a hack. It’s thoroughly obnoxious.

      • dolanster - Mar 23, 2012 at 2:25 AM

        Obnoxious maybe. Accurate definitely. Jumbo Joe is soft and ditching him for Chara was the best move the Bruins have made since trading Espo.

  5. dagnats - Mar 21, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Toronto is just upset because their leading scorer is an American…no one wants to say it, but it is what everyone is thinking…the leafs have much bigger problems than Kessel…

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:20 PM

      I don’t know anyone that thinks that. Every Leafs fan I know is a Kessel fan.

      • rsl22 - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:25 PM

        I think that the media can’t have the same position that most real fans have because they have to sell stories to everyone, not just the people that watch 82 games and live for the Leafs. I’ve never heard the media complain about Lupul, but is there anything different between the two other than one is Canadian and the other is the American easy target?

        If he was a Captain or A, it might be different; but if you want to get on someone in TO, go after Alternates Armstrong, Grabovski or Komisarik…not the guy who is in 4th in the league in scoring.

        Or, if you really want to pick on an American…go after Connolly, he’s the much more disappointing 5th overall draft pick.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:32 PM

        Kessel wears the ‘A’ sometimes but you’re right, nobody else seems to take the same flack he does despite the fact they contribute much, much less.

      • rsl22 - Mar 21, 2012 at 5:19 PM

        I watch the Caps a lot, and this makes me think of Alex Semin.

        Neither Kessel nor Semin gets any help in terms of their center or opposite winger. Bozak is at best a 2-3rd liner on a good team, same goes for MacArthur. Semin is playing with some combination of Perreault, Chimera and Aucoin…not exactly quality top 6 forwards.

        Both are expected to be a 40+ goal scorer….the difference is Kessel actually will be a 40+ goal scorer this year, but is taking all the blame.

  6. pepper2011 - Mar 21, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Who knew? The Bruins knew. Don’t forget Knight on top of Seguin and Hamilton. He will be a good 2nd or 3rd line player. There is a reason he got benched in the playoffs by Julien. Michael Ryder gives you virtually the same thing for less money and a hell of a lot more heart. Can you see kessel standing in the crease to block a shot?!? Taking a hit to make a pass or (gasp) actuallu playing defense. No doubt the Bruins got lucky hitting on what looks like all 3 of their picks, but there are a lot of guys in this league that could put up 30-40 goals if they NEVER play defense. Patrice Bergeron is a perfect example; his goal and point production have gone down (concussion plays a role) since Julien has come to Boston, but he is a +59 opposed to his -20 before Julien got here.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. P. Kane (1949)
  2. P. Kessel (1466)
  3. M. Richards (1268)
  4. N. Backstrom (1169)
  5. M. Giordano (1118)