By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 12) — If you’re certain that 10 million dollars can buy happiness, it may be wise to check with Phil Kessel.
While generations of future Kessels will never be found on a street corner — cap in hand — the family patriarch won’t likely be remembered as a joyous individual. Perhaps never, but certainly not when reflecting on early–2015. Though Papa Phil is banking $121,951.22 (before taxes) per game this National Hockey League season, he’s living a tortured existence. There may be no other existence while playing for the frightful Toronto Maple Leafs, but Kessel is in the spiral of every vortex right now. And his hockey life appears to be whirling out of control.
PHIL KESSEL’S MUG IS SHOWING UP ALL OVER THE PLACE THESE DAYS. THE MAPLE LEAFS WINGER IS CURRENTLY — AND DUBIOUSLY — ON THE COVER OF THE HOCKEY NEWS.
When the Maple Leafs make their final visit to the Nassau Coliseum tonight (more later), the club’s most talented commodity is expected to skate alongside David Booth and Trevor Smith. With no disrespect intended, that’s like putting a Ferrari beside a couple of tricycles. Nothing productive can possibly result from such a decision by interim coach Peter Horachek. Better, in my view, to scratch Kessel from the line–up altogether than to saddle him with incompatible linemates. That said, it’s understandable why Horachek would feel like “punishing” Kessel, who was completely disengaged during the Leafs 5–4 loss to New York Tuesday night — on the ice for four even–strength goals by the Rangers. Clearly, the coach doesn’t hold Kessel to the same standard as fellow multi–millionaire David Clarkson, who returns tonight against the Islanders after being a healthy scratch the previous two games.
COVER STORY, BY KEN CAMPBELL, IN CURRENT ISSUE OF THE HOCKEY NEWS.
Kessel, of course, only hurts himself by storming off the ice immediately after practice — as he did Wednesday at the MasterCard Centre — and refusing to speak with reporters. As the club’s most gifted and highest–paid player, he was fully aware of his responsibility to media when he signed the eight–year, $64–million contract extension with David Nonis in October 2013. It was no different with Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, Rick Vaive, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald or any that preceded Kessel as spokesmen for the Leafs. He may not be as innately conversant as the aforementioned, but there is still an obligation to the media and — by extension — the public. Kessel handles the obligation marginally.
He is now perceived as a “coach killer” and a central piece that must be eradicated before the Leafs can begin moving forward.
So, I ask again: Can money — and lots of it — buy happiness?
Not if you’re wearing No. 81 for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
ODE TO THE COLISEUM
As mentioned, the Maple Leafs make their 71st and final visit tonight to the ancient home of the New York Islanders. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum — in the Long Island hamlet of Uniondale — opened when the Islanders joined the NHL with the Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames in October 1972. It is the second–oldest arena in the league to neighboring Madison Square Garden (first NHL game in February 1968). Islanders move next season to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center, current home of the National Basketball Association Brooklyn Nets.
With my trusty NIKON in hand, I took these photos of the Nassau Coliseum during a visit by the Leafs in December 2011:
THE COLISEUM FROM WINDOW OF THE ADJACENT LONG ISLAND MARRIOTT.
APPROACHING LaGUARDIA AIRPORT OVER MANHATTAN AND CENTRAL PARK.
UNIONDALE IS DIRECTLY OFF THE LONG ISLAND EXPRESSWAY IN THE TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD.
THE NASSAU VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM FROM STREET LEVEL…
… AND WITH LONG ISLAND MARRIOTT IN THE BACKGROUND.
APPROACHING THE COLISEUM FOR NIGHT GAME BETWEEN ISLANDERS AND LEAFS.
VIEW FROM THE COLISEUM PRESS BOX.
POST–GAME LOOK AT THE ISLANDERS STANLEY CUP BANNERS…
… AND THOSE OF RETIRED GREATS THAT WORE THE UNIFORM.
SO LONG TO THE NHL’s SECOND–OLDEST ARENA.
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