The start the Toronto Maple Leafs have had this year is impressive.
With a 4-1-1 mark out of the gate, the Leafs look to have a few things under control.
Their star player, Phil Kessel, is tops in the points race with 12 and tops in goals scored with seven. He is even second in plus/minus with a plus-six.
Now we ask the Boston Bruins nation on how they feel about that. After the 6-2 thumping that the Bruins handed the Maple Leafs and leaving Kessel off the score sheet, they are totally fine with it.
Let's wind back to the beginning. What started the...dislike that the Bruins faithful have of the Toronto winger?
Kessel was a Bruin for three seasons (2006 to 2009). In that time, he amassed some respect as a goal scorer. With Center Marc Savard making the plays, this was a tandem that was to be feared.
As a rookie, he earned 29 points (11G, 18A).
In his sophomore year, he improved to 37 points (19G, 18A).
In the 2008 playoffs, he was not playing the system that the Bruins' Claude Julien laid out for the team and it quickly showed that Kessel was in danger of becoming a defensive liability after allowing the Habs to have some odd-man rushes—something that one cannot be against a team like the Montreal Canadiens. He was benched for a few games and when he came back he was on the same page. Unhappy about the benching but he got the message.
This seemed to generate some animosity as a future star player like Kessel doesn't like to ride the pine. But when you go against an experienced coach, and with an inexperienced player at that, expect to pay the price for it.
In his third and final season with the Bruins, this was a team to be reckoned with and Kessel helped light the lamp with 60 points (36G, 24A) and he was finally in a plus side of the plus/minus stat with an impressive plus-23.
The 2008-09 season was his final year in the current contract and the Bruins had some serious talent to make a serious push for the Cup.
That's where the wheels fell off for the Bruins.
Kessel was asking for a raise and that is understandable. He was steadily improving and his last season was stellar for any player, let alone a 22-year-old.
The raise he was asking for? In the neighborhood of $4 million a year.
For any team that is looking to build their team, that was not too far a stretch.
Here lied the problem. The Bruins were not looking to build. They felt they pretty much had the pieces. They were in maintaining mode for the most part.
There was also the conundrum that all the Cup contending teams had. Cap space. They already had talent that were being paid good contracts and deservedly so. These players were on the team longer, were proven, and some even took pay cuts because they believe this is the team that can make that final push to accomplishing that dream of hoisting Lord Stanley's Mug. The cap space, at that time, was about $2 million.
That money was not enough to accommodate Kessel's request.
Bruins' Peter Chiarelli also had the foresight that there will be contracts coming up in the very near future and that he felt that Kessel's request was not worth disassembling the very team that had the capability to not only go deep in the playoffs, but to take it all.
Had he accepted Kessel's request for $4-5 million a year, this would not be a likelihood, but a certainty. He just couldn't pull that trigger.
He opted to keep the team intact and bid Kessel farewell.
He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Leaf nation welcomed him with open arms.
This is a team that needed to build. They had the cap space, they needed the talent, but to some the trade was a high price.
The terms to the Kessel trade was to send two first-round picks, from 2010 and 2011, and its second draft choice in 2010 to make it happen.
At the end of the 2010 season, the Maple Leafs were second to last in the league. In the lottery for the first draft pick that the Bruins would get, the position held at the second pick overall.
Enter Tyler Seguin. With Edmonton selecting Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin became a Boston Bruin.
In the following year, Toronto was still low in the overall standings and Boston got Dougie Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Kessel was lighting up the lamp for Toronto in the two years as a Maple Leaf earning 55 and 64 points respectively. The downside? He became a liability defensively having a minus-eight and minus-20 in the same years.
In the first game that Seguin and Kessel faced each other, Seguin scored and the "Thank You Kessel!" chants started.
In the 2010-2011 season, the Maple Leafs ended their season, yet again, out of the playoffs. The upside was that they were in 10th in the Eastern Conference and just eight points out of the playoffs—a vast improvement seeing that they were second last in the league and 14 points out of the playoffs the previous season.
While it was true that the Maple Leafs won the season series against the Bruins (4-2-0), the result of the 2010-2011 season was Seguin hoisting a huge 35-pound trophy and wearing a Stanley Cup ring in his rookie year, and Kessel on the outside looking in.
We now fast forward to present day.
Now before Leaf Nation jump all over me on this, please stow it and hear me out. Let's take off the black and gold and the Leaf blue colored glasses here.
You claim to know your team and know your hockey. Let's use that.
Toronto got a good start and so did Kessel. But we have seen this before. Great starts, horrible finishes.
Who knows? It could change. I'm personally not holding my breath here, but it could happen.
Toronto's core, while young, are getting better, but the jury is still out on whether they can maintain this pace given the inexperience that the roster has up to this point.
On the other hand, having a young team does have its advantages.
High energy, less fear and nothing to lose can benefit a team in a huge way. If they make the playoffs in the next year or two, this would be a step in the right direction and can be considered a success.
No thanks to former GM Mike O'Connell, the Bruins were in that boat in the not too distant past.
October 22, 2011 was the first meeting with the Bruins and the Leafs and the Bruin faithful rained boos and jeers on Kessel every time he touched the puck.
Then it happened again. Seguin scored the Bruins' sixth and final goal to cap the B's offense and the all too familiar "Thank-You-Kes-sel!!" rang throughout the Garden.
Does it affect the Leaf star? The Bruin faithful doesn't seem to care.
What they saw was a player who had a great year and want serious coin for it. If the fans knew of the cap space, Kessel, more than anybody should have known.
That said, they saw Kessel was solely in it for the money. Any hockey player with any passion would give anything to be on a contending team and raise that trophy high in the air, receive that ring and get the recognition of Stanley Cup champion. All that AND a paycheck too.
Just look at Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Sure he earned some serious coin, but he played his role, did it well and did it a lot longer than Kessel. The intensity and shear joy of raising that Cup and what it meant to him to win it for himself and most importantly for this team is what being a hockey player is all about.
In the grand scheme of things, the winner of this trade are the Bruins.
As far as the Bruins are concerned, loyalty to the team is everything. Kessel can win all the scoring titles and rack up the stats all he wants. Until Kessel has the opportunity to raise the Cup and wear the ring, Kessel will be haunted by "The Chant" every time they play in Boston and Seguin gets a tally.
This is Cory Ducey saying "Hit Hard, But Keep It Clean."