On Super Bowl Sunday, the Toronto media was desperate to grab some hockey news somehow.
Phil Kessel, a recent focus for the anger and frustration of the Toronto fans (as encouraged by the Toronto media) was quoted by TSN as saying, "No, me and Ron don't really talk. That's all I have to say about that," and, "I don't really know what to say about that any more. I'm trying. Obviously, it's not going right. It might not be working out here. What are you going to do?"
I don't take Kessel's comments (and quotes often look different in print than they would sound if heard in context of the situation) in the way they have been portrayed. When he said that he and Ron Wilson don’t talk, it was in response to a question if the coach had pulled him aside to talk about his inability to score.
If you read between the lines, it's like saying, “So Phil, tell everyone, did your coach tell you how to finally start scoring again? Or is he just going to start benching you because you two don’t get along?”
And Phil answers by saying that his coach doesn’t talk with him about his scoring. What?! You say that Ron Wilson doesn’t tell Kessel what his problem is? He’s not berating him for not scoring? Well, it doesn’t matter that Kessel obviously knows and just as obviously has been trying too hard by most experts account.
Since the fans want to hear about how bad a coach Ron Wilson is, lets tell them the REALLY juicy stuff! Ron and Phil don’t talk. Because if Ron won’t be nosy here, they can’t possibly talk about anything else!
My apologies for the over-dramatization and sarcasm, but in my books, it is no worse than what TSN was attempting to do to Kessel, Wilson and the Leafs.
So, the media also decides it’s a good idea to talk with Phil and find out why he decided he wasn’t going to score goals anymore. And my goodness, he responds by more or less saying, "Hey guys, I’ve already told you I’m trying to correct things and I don’t know why the puck just isn’t going in for me. And since I’ve already responded to that same question phrased in 50 different ways, I’ve run out of new answers to give you."
Then TSN gets all tricky with their punctuation.
For anyone who watched a televised version of the interview, you will see Kessel say, “I’m trying. Obviously it’s (the puck) not going (in the net). (PAUSE—now looks up at the forest of microphones) Right? It might not be working out here (Not here as in “Toronto” but here as in “on the ice”). What are you going to do?”
That is NOT what TSN would like you to believe.
Kessel isn’t saying he wants to be traded, nor do I think that he means that Burke has to overhaul the roster. If anything, perhaps he was expressing the frustration in being constantly paired with Bozak and Crabb, although he is far too nice and polite a guy to ever say something like that about a teammate.
But really, what other team in the NHL would surround their only pure sniper and goal scorer with one player (Crabb) who wouldn’t make the fourth line on any other NHL team and another player (Bozak) who wouldn’t make anything more than the fourth line on 80 percent of the other NHL teams. But he might very well make the third line on the remaining 20 percent.
I like Bozak, but I see him as a guy who is developing into a guy who can be a good third-line center on a solid team, or a fill-in second-line center on a poorer team.
But right now, he has not fully developed or reached his potential.
I don't like Crabb, and its nothing personal. I dont know the guy, but I have trouble seeing his NHL calibre skills. I especially have trouble seeing him playing more than five minutes a night with the skills he has.
I honestly believe that with any other franchise, at best he might see NHL time when being called up to fill in during an injury situation on a very limited basis.
I understand that Wilson had a bit of a dilemma on a long-term team basis. The line of Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur had too much chemistry to break up. While Vertseeg and Armstrong were getting increasingly more comfortable playing the wings on an improving third line.
So, by default, Wilson figured that he might as well try to put whatever was left with Kessel—who just happens to be his most naturally talented offensive talent.
Its a great thought that no one player, no matter how talented, is bigger than the team. And so Kessel would be sacrificing some personal totals so that the team could build long-term chemistry on the other lines.
And make no mistake—it is a sacrifice.
Playing as a team is all well and good, but a guy like Kessel gets his paycheque based on the goals and points he puts up. When he isn't being allowed to play with guys who can also create offence, and his point totals suffer, thats his money and his job that someone else is screwing with—especially when he is making that sacrifice and the team isn’t even close to making the playoffs.
Essentially, Wilson has been silently telling Kessel (and us fans and the media and anyone who cares to look) just grin and bear it, wait for Burkie to get you those line-mates you deserve.
Only, when the goals aren't going in. And Kessel makes a couple defensive mistakes because he is trying too hard and things just arent clicking. Well, now it's time to point the finger and the blame at Kessel.
But, was Kessel throwing a fit the whole season? Nope. He just got frustrated when media kept pushing him on how bad or unlucky he has been during his slump. Poke a dog with a stick too many times and...well, you get what happened on Sunday.
A frustrated comment by a player who feels that he has been getting a raw deal—and a Toronto media so starved for controversy that they felt that they needed to create a story out of nothing.
In the end, I think that the Toronto media really got the first punch in on this battle, but I also feel pretty confident that eventually, the Toronto Maple Leafs will show that not only in there nothing now, there never was anything to begin with.
Kessel doesn’t want out of Toronto, and Wilson doesn’t want to do anything more than get Kessel focused on playing the defensive side of the game until those chances just start turning into goals (which, by the way, is why Wilson didn’t need to pull Kessel aside to tell him how to score).
Wilson has coached enough great snipers in his time to know what is needed to get them scoring again). And it’s not talking with them about the goal scoring, it's about making sure the last thing they are worried about is thinking about is goal-scoring.