Many Toronto Maple Leaf fans remain frustrated their GM surrendered two straight first round draft picks to Boston for Phil Kessel. I heard from many of them, all ticked off at me through emails this morning. I suggested that, based on his comments yesterday, it sure sounds like Kessel wants out of Toronto.
Kessel seems to be settling in as a 30 goal player, who’ll get you 55-60 points. He’s 84th in NHL scoring right now. He hasn’t scored in 10 games and is a minus 22. His head coach, Ron Wilson demoted him to a line with Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce, neither of whom would be described as having a nose for the net. (Actually, Boyce recently didn’t have a nose at all, getting part of it ripped off when it got caught in the photographer hole in the glass last week (if you're into photos of nasal gore, then click here).
Kessel is not media-friendly and he’s had to deal with the annoyance/pressure of being in hockey’s biggest fishbowl. He also has to deal with the pressure of expectation since the Leafs gave up so, SO much to bring him in. Now he's not playing well and appears to be feuding with his head coach. Yesterday Kessel sounded off, saying, “It might not be working out here. Maybe it’s time for a change here.” He also said he and coach Ron Wilson never talk.
Kessel clarified/revised his comments today, saying he was only talking about his new linemates. Let’s say that’s true, which I don’t believe for a second. How do you suppose his teammates feel about that? Uh-huh, so you don’t want out of Toronto, Phil? It’s just that you hate playing with us as your linemates? Whew. Thank goodness. I feel SO much better. Nice save, Phil.
Kessel had one whole practice with his new linemates and now says it’s time for a change? Yes, this trio has been together for way too long. Almost 60 full minutes and Kessel has already diagnosed that it’s time for a change at long last. Awesome.
Of course, he wants more than a change of line. He and the team are clearly in damage control today. I believe Kessel, at that moment, did want out. Why not? It’s a pressure cooker and a bad team. I believe he doesn’t like his coach. Hey, according to last week’s NHLPA poll, most players don’t. This isn’t shocking. His demotion to a weak line made him furious.
However, I also believe people can change their minds about things. A good night’s sleep, a new day and things look a little better. I fully believe Kessel picked up the paper today and went, “Damn. What did I say that for?” But let’s be sure we call this what it was. It was a frustrated kid, hitting the boiling point and sounding off. He said what he said but maybe he truly feels differently today.
This is not a Dany Heatley story, although it might become that. At the moment, it’s a Jason Spezza story. A good offensive player with zero commitment to defence, who’s become very unhappy with his team. However you slice it, it’s not good for business.