By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Aug. 4) – Understand that Phil Kessel was merely and graciously answering a question put to him in early-August.
It came from Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press, who chatted with Fast Phil during an event leading up to the Rogers Cup men’s tennis tournament at York University. Whyno asked Kessel about the latest in a string of collapses by the Toronto Maple Leafs – the 2-12-0 face-plant to end last season that ushered the team out of the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years. And, about somehow avoiding a repeat.
“I think we had a good team,” Kessel told the C.P. writer after a ball-hockey game at Rexall Centre, site of the Rogers Cup. “We were there last year. We had a bad stretch. We don’t have that stretch, we’re right in it. This year we made some good additions and I think we improved as a team, and we’re going to be ready to go. We’ve got to be prepared for the long season, and we won’t go through one of those again.”
These words are mostly the product of denial and should be taken with many grains of salt. “We don’t have that stretch, we’re right in it,” said Kessel. The concept of “if” has guided off-season Leafs talk for as long as most can remember. For many years, it was “if we had only played earlier in the season like we did in the final month” – the notion being that garbage time in March and April was indicative of the real Leafs.
That dream would last roughly until the third week of October.
I could be wrong, but I sense the majority of Leaf fans have grown immune to idle, off-season chatter. Given what the team has done in recent years, it comes across as gibberish. Kessel talks about not “going through one of those again.” To help avoid another death-spiral, however, he must prove capable of generating offense in the toughest part of the schedule. Like virtually all of his teammates, Kessel was invisible from mid-March on. No amount of August blather can compensate for lack of performance. I suspect Phil understands that.
“This year we made some good additions and I think we improved as a team,” Kessel told Whyno. That doesn’t appear to be the consensus elsewhere. The influx of third and fourth-liners this summer isn’t likely to position the Maple Leafs among playoff teams when pre-season magazines appear on news-stands later this month.
Of course, none of the chatter is particularly important or newsworthy. There is no indication that Leafs management is looking toward next season as a watershed. Rather, it appears Brendan Shanahan and David Nonis are content to suffer some more short-term pain for long-term gain. Which is precisely the strategy the club needs to adopt. Losing, of course, is never fun – even when winning isn’t expected. A flood of words will likely bring comfort to some Leaf fans before training camp.
The majority will shrug and recognize they’ve heard it all before.
ANOTHER WILD WEATHER DAY
TORONTO – Aug. 4, 2014
Holiday Monday started off with sunshine and haze. But, the afternoon brought two enormous weather systems – one of which produced a frighteningly dark sky. These images from my mid-town balcony:
AND A GORGEOUS SUNSET…
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