Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Phil Kessel Being Singled Out in Toronto?


In his five seasons (including the lockout shortened season) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel has had to deal with a lot of criticism. Now a new episode in the soap opera has a new chapter and the star of the show, Phil Kessel, is right in the center of all the drama with Steve Spott, Randy Carlyle and the Toronto media playing significant role in this chapter.

Nothing published by the mainstream media (i.e. the Toronto Star, the National Post, the Toronto Sun and the Globe and Mail) goes unnoticed in Leafs Nation. It is the drug that we crave, the best way to get all the juicy news and reports that fans want access to. However,with great power comes great responsibility. If something negative is written about the team, Leafs fans are quick to judge and comment on articles via the twittersphere and other social media sites.

Mar 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) shoots against the St. Louis Blues at Air Canada Centre. The Blues beat the Maple Leafs 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

For those who do not know what I am referring to; either you don’t have twitter, don’t anything in the newspaper/online , don’t watch anything on TSN or Sportsnet or live under a rock. There was an interesting article published the night before training camp and it got people’s attention. On Wednesday Dave Feschuk a sports writer for the Toronto Star wrote an article that reported a difference of opinion between Phil Kessel and new assistant coach Steve Spott.

May 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO and president Tim Leiweke reacts after a call against Toronto FC during the second half against the New England Revolution at BMO Field. New England defeated Toronto 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

With training camp underway, this year has been unpleasant for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Tim Leiweke made headlines when he called out the terrible character that the Leafs have. Then ESPN (who has a rough history with Toronto sports teams) published an article which ranks the Toronto Maple Leafs as the worse sports franchise in North America. A similar article was written about Dion Phaneuf in 2012 by Sports Illustrated, where was named the most overrated player in the NHL, then ESPN published another poll the year after with the same results.

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This team has been beaten down and analyzed to the bone, and the majority of the stories around the team has not been positive which is understandable given last seasons poor play and the tough media market in Toronto.

Jan 18, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle looks on from the bench against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

What the Toronto media and fans were left to believe is that Head Coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis were not to blame for the Leafs poor play last season. That only left the assistant coaches (who were relieved of their duties), the assistant coaches (suffered the same fate) and the players (can’t really fire the team can you?) as the people to share the blame for the teams struggles.

To credit Feschuk this type of article is one that journalists crave to write, any type of disagreement between a player and a coach is hot news. The weight comment (saying Kessel is 15 pounds overweight) is insignificant given that Phil Kessel’s speed makes him a deadly player with the puck.

However, me, along with many other people agree that trying to stir up controversy between Kessel and the coaching staff overlooks the actual problems with the team. Here are some examples where members of the media and fans/bloggers weighed in on the Kessel situation.

About the coaching rift between Kessel and the coaching staff and Kessel’s weight:

Mar 23, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) score a goal against New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) during third period at Prudential Center. the New Jersey Devils won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

This clearly illustrates that there is no reason why Phil Kessel has to be singled out by the media. The coaching staff has never come out and voice their displeasure with Kessel, do you want to know why? It’s because he is the Leafs best offensive player, he has carried this team ever since he came to Toronto and he is only getting better. Kessel has not missed a single game in fours seasons, he is dependable and if the Leafs found him an upgrade at center he would probably be even better. Look at the numbers, he ranked fourth in corsi rating with a %44.3 on a team with terrible possession stats. He has 156 goals, 177 assists for 333 points in 364 games. That is at a .91 points per game rate, Mats Sundin produced at around a point per game in his time with the Leafs.

It has been stated that free agents want to stay away form Toronto and other Canadian teams because the pressure to play in this type of market is tough. Kessel has been criticized by the media because he does not like to talk to them, and Kessel made it a point to say that he does not believe everything that is written about him by the media. Kessel has never voiced his displeasure about playing Toronto actually he said the opposite. Kessel wants to prove that he can win in a tough market and prove to other players that it is possible to win as long as you play your to your capabilities,

Kessel wants to prove that he can win in a tough market and prove to other players that it is possible as long as you play your to your capabilities, if you cannot handle the pressure then why play in the NHL. It would be more satisfying to win in Toronto. We will probably treat the future Stanley Cup team in Toronto like royalty if they win.

I made a point on Twitter about Kessel and his commitment towards the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There was a time when the media believed that Kessel could have been traded out of Toronto and yet he did not let those rumours affect his game. It is not his fault that the Leafs gave up two first round picks and a second (Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton) for him. He just goes out and plays to the best of his abilities and frankly that is all that we can ask out of Kessel.

Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis announces William Nylander (not pictured) as the number eight overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If there is a problem with Steve Spott and Kessel, Randy Carlyle, Brendan Shanahan and Dave Nonis better make sure that their star player is still on board and that any issues are resolved. Steve Spott could one day take over as head coach of the Leafs (sooner rather than later possibly) and he should remember anything negative the media finds out will come back to bite you later. Remember the Carlyle comments about James Reimer being “Just Ok”, trust me I will never forget.

The entire team should be held accountable for the Leafs struggles and if the media thinks singling out one player is the right way to go, this situation just showed that it won’t work. If it was reported that many players on the team are refusing to change their style of game because a new coach is suggesting it, there is something to talk about. Other cities don’t do that as often so why should Toronto be any different.

Leave the circus act for another city, Leafs fans are tired of the negativity, it’s getting old. Don’t believe I think this tweet proves my point.

What do you think about this situation? Is the media right or are you sick and tired of the Leafs being hammered by the media?