Toronto Maple Leafs Phil Kessel: Talented Scorer or Problem Child?

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst INovember 21, 2016

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

He's about as streaky a scorer as they come. 

After not tallying a single goal in over a month (14 games), Phil Kessel has three goals in 48 hours. 

It's been that kind of season for the 23-year-old, who at times this season has looked like one of the league's most dangerous snipers, while at other times can't buy a goal. 

He has 22 goals in 58 games, which means he's still on pace to pass the 30-goal mark for the third-straight season, but it's been a roller-coaster ride if there ever was one. 

Before his 14-game scoreless slugfest, Phil the Thrill was at his twine-bulging best with four goals in five games (six days).

Impressive, yes, but it came after a stretch of 17 games where he lit the lamp just three times. 

He's had three slumps of seven or more games without a goal. He's also scored in back-to-back games seven times, while having a two-goal game four times. 

It was no secret that he was a streaky scorer coming into this season, but he seems to have taken it to the extremes in 2010-11.

When he's on his game, he's unstoppable.

When he's slumping, it tends to be of epic proportions. 

His 247 shots are second only to Alex Ovechkin (264) this season-both with 22 goals-so it isn't for a lack of opportunity.

But it does beg the question: What's the deal with Kessel, really?

We know his line mates aren't of All-Star calibre, but some nights that doesn't seem to matter at all. We know his effort level isn't always where it should be, but some nights he's the most dangerous man on the ice. 

We know all these things, and yet, it doesn't seem like anyone can figure out who he really is; not even him.

His frustration is evident when he's not producing. His body language is undeniable.

Just last week he admitted that him and his coach talk very little, which isn't necessarily an issue, but the way he said it showed he was clearly upset, and that his play on the ice might effect his relationships off of it. 

It's come to the point where our expectations of Kessel are that we have no idea what to expect on any given night.

He could be great, he could be pathetic. 

It's simply puzzling.

What isn't puzzling at all is that when he scores, the Leafs win. 

The team has won six-straight games in which he's scored, and they're 13-5-0 on the year when Kessel tallies a goal. 

He's important to the club, denying that would be silly, and if the Leafs are planning on closing the gap on this closer-than-we-thought playoff race, they need Kessel to be at his best. 

But for the club and fans, taking the good with the bad is becoming harder and harder. 

Looking like a superstar for five games, then going 14 without a single goal isn't going to cut it. You've got to think that sooner or later Brian Burke is going to get sick of this routine, no matter what he had to give up to acquire him. 

The fans may have already had it with him, or with the slumping-Kessel anyway. Though it's difficult to fully turn against a player who can play like the guy we've seen in the past two games. 

The fact is, we can't make the final decision on him yet.

He's played just 128 games in a Leaf uniform and has 52 goals and 94 points during that time. And him not having a star setup man is cause to reserve final judgement, even if we're already sick of that excuse.

But this shtick won't last forever. Not if he continues to flip-flop between the disinterested, overpaid, pouty complainer, and the worth-every-penny lethal sniper.

He might get the benefit of the doubt this season, and if he's gifted with, well, a gifted center for next year, we'll be able to get a glimpse of who the real Kessel is. 

But if next season is like this one, the lustre will most certainly rub off. It won't be enough that he scores every once in a while. Burke traded the future away so he could produce consistently, now.

Not occasionally. 

And one more season filled with criticism, media bombardment, and questions about his effort level might be all Kessel can take in the center of the hockey world. It has all the ingredients to turn ugly between both sides.

It could be a make-or-break year.

The only thing is, if 2011-12 is another season like this one, Toronto might give up on Kessel long before he gives up on them.