Phil Kessel started his season off slow for someone as proficient a player as him. Now that things have turned around, he's cementing himself in Toronto.
Time for the team to make the wing a Maple Leaf for life.
Kessel started his season off at a snails pace, posting just four points in all of January. At one point,- he was mired in a four-game point-less streak. He scored zero goals in the month.
Since then, things have turned around for the 26 year old. He recently strung together a four-game point streak, and has 11 total in February — including two goals.
But people like to dwell on slow starts, which is why Kessel's early season struggles had the Toronto Star's Damien Cox calling for a trade.
In his article, Cox said about Kessel:
Kessel appears ill-conditioned, isolated, troubled or simply massively unlucky, or some combination of those.
Whatever the case, it is becoming difficult to imagine a scenario in which Kessel remains a Leaf beyond the end of this season.
As for Kessel's chemistry with the team, Cox wrote:
Personality-wise, this just hasn’t been a fit. Like Andrea Bargnani, he could be a nice secondary piece on a good team.
On a young, struggling team, however, he can’t be the front man.
It's hard to tell if Cox was just trying to be over-opinionated, or if he honestly believes in what he wrote.
There's really no reason Cox can't be a front man on this team. He's a good player, who has averaged 65.25 points a season over the last four years. In that same four year stretch, he's scored at least 30 goals each season.
As for Kessel, he wishes to remain in Toronto.
In a recent article by the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran, Kessel was reported as wanting to remain a Maple Leaf for life:
Phil Kessel wants to be a Maple Leaf for life.
So says his agent, Wade Arnott, who went on Toronto radio Wednesday to say so.
“Phil (Kessel) is still a really young man,” Arnott told the SportsNet Fan590. “He really enjoys living in Toronto and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“This young man lives and breathes hockey. He was very excited to come here four years ago. I think if you asked Phil today, he’d love to finish his career here in Toronto. But it’s still young in his career right now.”
From Toronto's point of view, it makes sense to explore trades. Kessel is a restricted free agent after this season, and will be looking for a pay bump from his current $5.4 million salary.
The Maple Leafs surely have some decisions to make salary cap wise after this season, but keeping Kessel should be the easy one.
He's young, he's been effective with the Maple Leafs and he's a piece to build around in the future.
Even if Cox is right and Kessel "can't be the front man," he would make for a fantastic complimentary player. You can't win with just one big piece, you have to build a team.
If Kessel's desire to stay in Toronto is legitimate, than brokering a deal could be easy. If there's that much mutual interest, a deal should fall into place easily enough.
So while some may have jumped the gun on the trade talk, the smoke has cleared. With that clarity, the Leafs should be able to see keeping Kessel is the right move moving forward.