Toronto Maple Leafs: The War Between Phil Kessel and the Media


Toronto Maple Leafs: The War Between Phil Kessel and the Media

Nov 15, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) before a game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs can be a blessing and a curse. The media attention this team receives can be overbearing, but considering Toronto’s popularity it is not surprising that the largest hockey market has this type of media coverage.

In a city like Toronto with a big media presence, everything is put under the microscope because there is a high demand for almost every detail to be examined. The pressure does not fall only on the players, but also with the coaching staff and the management team. Leafs fans have seen over the years how tough it can be for the organization to deal with the media, because there has been many instances where the two sides do not get along.

Jan 18, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella yells at the Calgary Flames bench after a fight broke out in the first 2 seconds of the first period at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey fans have been treated to some great battles with the media and the one to top the list has to be John Tortorella during his time with the New York Rangers. The number of YouTube videos showing Tortorella could fill multiple TSN top 10 highlight reels. Unfortunately the Toronto media has not had the pleasure of such battles, but they have had their fair share of spats. When Ron Wilson was coaching the Leafs – unfortunately – he had his own issues with the media.

Although Wilson had his encounters, they do not compare to the way Brian Burke dealt with the media in Toronto. Burke is not the easiest person to get along with – he was seen as impatient and would not hide from someone who opposed his opinion. His time as GM in Toronto was not smooth sailing. However, although he did not accomplish the goal that he set out for the team, he did leave the franchise in a better situation than previous general manager’s had.

March 7, 2013; Boston, MA USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) looks to make a pass while being pressured by Boston Bruins center

Tyler Seguin

(19) during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

One move Burke made that caused a major firestorm in Toronto was the trade for Phil Kessel. It was debated and criticized because many believed that the price the Leafs paid was way too much. The two first round picks ended up being Tyler Seguin, and Dougie Hamiltonplayers that could have been the face of the Leafs franchise. As a result, the media put this mantle on Kessel and the microscope lens has been placed on him for the past five seasons. Fortunately for the winger, he has been the Leafs best player in that time and the only criticism the media could find on Kessel’s game was his defensive effort – until now.

Starting at training camp, the amount of negative stories about Kessel in Toronto has grown significantly. You may recall an article that I wrote a couple of months ago which addressed the idea that Kessel was being singled out by the media. After that the drama between Kessel and the media had actually died down until this past weekend. After the Leafs 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Jonas Siegel from TSN wanted to get a comment from Kessel about the game. Siegel tweeted this message that night and spoke on TSN 1050 about it on Monday.

Oct 17, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) warms up as head coach

Randy Carlyle

looks on from the bench before their game against the Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

What it looked like to me was some built up frustration from previous experiences with Kessel. I understand he may be frustrated because Kessel was rude with him, but what did he expect? He knows Kessel does not like to talk to the media and after being humiliated by the Sabres what would he really have to say? If anything you did get a reaction from Kessel, which was to get out of my face because he was pissed off. Kessel is not the type of player that will call out his teammates, which some star players have been seen doing. Tip of the Tower’s Paul Taylor wrote about Kessel’s response to the situation. He does not understand why the media wants to talk to him everyday. He is not the vocal leader for the team and is not a good person to come to for quotations for a story. He would rather let his play on the ice do the talking.

Other reporters, analysts, Randy Carlyle and even Burke had mixed feelings about the Kessel situation.

Apr 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins goaltender

Chad Johnson

(30) stops a shot by Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) as Boston Bruins defenseman

Zdeno Chara

(33) defends during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Why is this such a debated issue? It is because of Kessel being the highest paid player on the team? The media feels that if you are being paid eight million dollars, you should take on more responsibility. Just because Kessel is getting paid more money, it does not give the media a right to demand more out of him. The reason why he is paid so much is because of what he does on the ice and not because of what he does with the media. The fans do not care if Kessel talks to the media – they only care about his play on the ice and it should be that way.

As someone who wants a future in sports media, I can understand where a journalist like Siegel is going to be frustrated that he is unable to talk with the Leafs best player. But if he knows the type of person that Kessel is, why be surprised about the situation? This is not a bashing of Siegel, because I like the work he does for TSN. I just think that he picked the wrong battle and there are other issues with this team he could cover, instead of trying to get something from Kessel who has not been the problem for the Leafs.

What do you think? Is the whole media situation with Kessel overblown or was Siegel right to call out Kessel?