Phil Kessel: Have The Toronto Maple Leafs Had Their Phil of the Youngster?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IFebruary 7, 2011

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 25: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum on January 25, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Leafs 2-0. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Fresh off his infamous snub at the 2011 All-Star Game, Toronto Maple Leafs “sniper” Phil Kessel is making headlines again. Kessel, who is currently enjoying a ten game scoring drought, has been criticized for his lack of defensive prowess and, to some extent, seems to be having his work ethic questioned. When he was asked about his current slump Kessel made the following comment, “I’m trying. Obviously it’s not going right. Like I said, might not be working out here. What are you going to do?”

As troubling as Kessel’s comments were, head coach Ron Wilson’s comments were equally enlightening, “Phil doesn’t really want to talk much about goal scoring or even work on it that much in practice.” On the surface it appears as if both Wilson (who Kessel says he doesn’t “really talk to”) are at odds over how Kessel can get out of his scoring slump with Wilson hinting at an increased effort in the defensive zone and Kessel hinting that an overhaul of the roster may be needed before things can be turned around.

To be fair, Kessel often gets 4 or 5 scoring chances per game, but with little else to offer. Unless Kessel is scoring, he often emerges as a minus player on the night, as witnessed by his team leading -22 rating. Wilson (who has had his fair share of criticisms this season from both the fans and media) responded to Kessel’s struggles by demoting the grumpy winger to Toronto’s third line at Sunday’s practice, where he played on a line with Joey Crabb and Daryl Boyce (two players that have spent most of their season with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies).

With little in the way of prospects, roster players or draft picks to offer opposing clubs for a legitimate number one center, Kessel will likely have to wait for free agency to arrive, where the likes of Dallas Stars superstar Brad Richards may become available. Still, as great as Richards would be, there is no indication that he will emerge as a free agent this summer. Even if Richards was to hit the market, it is unclear if he would want to sign in Toronto.

Riddle me this…why would Richards want to come to Toronto to play with a guy who was the laughingstock of the NHL at the All-Star game and seems to have about as much personality as a rock? Throw in the NHL Players Poll which suggested Maple Leafs’ Head Coach Ron is about as popular as a wet dog. There really isn’t much of a chance that Richards would pick Toronto, is there?

The reality is, Kessel needs to make good with what he has. If that means he needs to concentrate on becoming a more balanced player, so be it. It’s not as if the Maple Leafs are going anywhere this season, so putting your efforts into becoming a more defensively responsible player may be just what the doctor ordered. One thing is clear: Wilson is tired of Kessel’s nonchalant attitude and disinterest to engage in all zones. Sure, Kessel is a pure sniper, but there has to be some accountability and Wilson is just doing his job by reminding Kessel that he has to improve his game. If Kessel’s feeling’s are hurt along the way, so be it.

The odds of Kessel finding himself on another roster are slim to none. Brian Burke paid a king’s ransom to bring Kessel to Toronto and given his poor attitude and lack of production, there are few NHL general managers that would want to add Kessel to their roster. Ron Wilson has tried everything to get Kessel going. He has had Kessel playing with several different linemates and has even gone so far as to try Kessel down the middle.

As the saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.” Maybe Kessel should do a little reflection, because if he thinks he is without blame here, he is, well, insane! Until next time, Peace!