Like so many GMs before, Brian Burke has made it abundantly clear that he is not looking to rebuild the Leafs through the draft. This was perhaps most evidently seen in his acquisition of Phil Kessel.
The price paid to acquire the young sharpshooter was steep. Coming to Toronto wasn't going to be easy for the native of Madison, Wisconsin. He knew this, Leafs Nation knew this and Brian Burke surely knew this.
More than a year into his tenure with the league's second-most storied franchise, the Leafs faithful have begun to wonder: Does Phil Kessel get it?
As a player it isn't always easy to be loved when donning the blue & white; just ask Bryan McCabe. When looking at the most recent history however, it becomes apparent the type of player that Leafs fans come to adore.
Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker are arguably four of the most popular Leafs in the past two decades. These players all had one common denominator: they always wore their hearts on their sleeve.
Watching Phil Kessel play, one comes to realize that he is exactly what these players were not. He doesn't battle along the boards with any kind of aggressiveness, he doesn't back-check (as evidenced by his awful minus-20 rating), he doesn't finish his checks and he definitely doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve.
Watch this guy in an interview. He is plain, bland, boring and seemingly disinterested. Does he look like he will ever wear a letter on this team? Sadly, to this point the answer appears to be no.
Sure, it can be argued that none of this matters when he's scoring 30+ goals a season. But as a member of Leafs Nation, I am confident that I don't stand alone when I say that I WANT MORE.
If I were to give up two firsts and a second as a GM, I would be looking for a franchise-type player in return. To this point, it is safe to say that there is nothing very "franchise" about Phil Kessel.
Maybe I'm being too harsh, but Phil Kessel isn't anywhere near the type of player that Brian Burke likes to build around. Burke was successful in Anaheim with forwards like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both of these guys are willing to take or make a hit if it gives his team a better chance of winning. Is Kessel willing to do the same?
According to Yahoo! Sports, Kessel has thrown eight hits all season. To put this into perspective, Tomas Kaberle has 24. While hitting isn't the end-all and be-all, it would certainly help in convincing his teammates and his fans that he does indeed care.
Phil Kessel needs to look at the big picture and start to do the little things right. Show a little grit, Phil. Talk on the bench a little, and most importantly, try to look engaged in the game that you get paid over $5 million a year to play. This will go a long way in convincing Leafs fans that you actually give a damn. And Lord knows, it might actually improve your minus-20 rating.
While his effort has appeared to be better in the two games following the All-Star break, I'm still not convinced that he's willing to do what it takes to become an elite player in the NHL.
Leafs fans just want a little passion, isn't that obvious? Surely Kessel knows this. Or does he? Maybe, just maybe, the sad truth is that Phil Kessel just doesn't get it.