Kessel Might Look Inward

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 3) — I have no problem with Phil Kessel calling out the dastardly media or sticking up for teammate Dion Phaneuf.

Fast Phil did both today in a well–conceived yet uncharacteristic diatribe after the Toronto Maple Leafs game–day skate in Sunrise, Fla. On the few occasions in which Kessel has spoken up while playing in Toronto, his message has been rather substantive. As it was today — 24 hours after a lewd Tweet that involved Phaneuf (but had nothing to do with Toronto hockey reporters) appeared on TSN during its trade deadline coverage. Want to spill vitriol into a radio microphone? All good here, as it was during my 23 years holding a mike for The FAN-590.

Sadly absent, however, during Kessel’s tirade was a mirror. It would have cast a perfect reflection on his liberal use of the word “embarrassing,” given there is no other way to describe how Kessel long ago threw in the towel on the 2014–15 National Hockey League season. His lazy, apathetic performance since mid–December rather belies such unconditional love for a teammate; the hockey club, or its massive following. At no point during a pitiful display of four goals in 22 games (dating to Jan. 12) has Kessel — when provided the opportunity — accounted for his appalling indifference. “I’m pretty cold right now” or “things just aren’t bouncing for me” has been the extent of self–recrimination. Which, to me, is the epitome of embarrassment.

15-Dion-Golfedited-X

IT’S COOL THAT PHIL KESSEL (RIGHT) CAME OUT IN VERBAL SUPPORT OF TEAMMATE DION PHANEUF (LEFT) EARLIER TODAY IN FLORIDA. MUCH LESS COOL IS KESSEL’S APATHY SINCE MID–DECEMBER, WHICH HAS HELPED TO DRAG MAPLE LEAFS INTO THE ABYSS YET AGAIN. TORONTO SUN IMAGE 

And, it has nothing to do with Kessel’s inflated salary. Let’s be honest — the only professionals that deserve $8 million a year are those who save lives. Doctors and surgeons. Especially the ones involved with pediatrics. It is impossible to rationalize a hockey player earning more than a doctor that returns a sick child to health. So, forget the eight–year, $64–million extension Kessel agreed to in October 2013. Far more salacious is a hockey player swinging the lead; one who refuses to maximize the gift that enabled him to earn such a haul. That has been Kessel since mid–December, when the Maple Leafs inevitably cooled off from the 10–1–1 eruption in which they became the NHL’s highest–scoring team. When everything was going into the net, Fast Phil had it in overdrive. When the deluge ended, he put it in cruise control and offered nothing to help the club. Not a smidgen of character or resolve that might have willed his ‘mates beyond an abbreviated slump. Instead, he went perfectly dry with the team, often skulking to the bench after a languid defensive effort led to an opposition goal. In my opinion, No. 81 — as much as any person in the Maple Leafs organization — is responsible for the 6–24–2 eyesore in the days and weeks since Dec. 16.

The irony in Kessel’s verbal sheltering of Phaneuf is that he’s rarely been willing to apply himself like the Toronto captain. I agree with Phil when he says Phaneuf takes too much guff from local fans and media. At least the captain seems concerned when he’s on the ice — misadventure notwithstanding. That’s a lot more than we can say for the body language and offensive output of Kessel during his club’s remarkable free–fall. And, it’s the number–one reason why Brendan Shanahan and David Nonis (should the latter be retained as general manager) must ensure that Kessel is skating elsewhere next season.

No. 81’s near–complete absence of integrity, drive and determination on the ice since mid–December has permeated the roster. It cannot be retained with any plausibility if the Maple Leafs are to move forward.

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I spoke my bit today on TSN–1290 Radio in Winnipeg with my former FAN–590 colleague Rick Ralph. Audio link is here:

https://soundcloud.com/ronaroundtable/howard-berger-march-3-2015

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

TWITTER: BERGER_BYTES

FACEBOOK: HOWARD BERGER [HUMBER COLLEGE]

LINKEDIN: HOWARD BERGER [BROADCAST MEDIA]

3 comments on “Kessel Might Look Inward

  1. I agree 100% Howard.
    I don’t think Kessel is talking about the media though, I think he’s referring to the fans.
    He’s heard the boos, and is aware of the general dissatisfaction with the team felt by the fans.
    It may be that he/they are a product of the generation that received nothing but praise growing up and has never faced performance related adversity. The old saying is that when the going get tough the tough would get going. With these guys when the going gets tough they eschew responsibility and whine that it’s the medias fault.
    I find this collection of players to be entirely unlikeable. I can’t cheer for them because they give so little in term of effort or result.

  2. good article however
    it takes more than one person to make a team, they are all at fault, whether it is lack of spirit or improper coaching or indifference to coaching methods.

  3. This article is well written and the assessment is spot on with regards to Mr. Kessel. I’m an admirer of talent but I have little use for someone who doesn’t apply it consistently; taking into account normal off peak performances. I think Mr Kessel needs to grow up with how he handles the media & self assesses his effort(s) on the ice etc. He must learn he has to leave it all out on the ice each practise & game. He owes it to the Leafs who pay him very well & fans you pay dearly in $ & emotional investment to see him play. With his God given talent & if he applied himself to the max each game he could own Toronto & thereby be helping his teammates. Keeping yourself in peak physical condition is now mandatory not an option to being a NHL player. I understand he feels uncomfortable with talking to the media but there are people out there who can help him in this regard. Unfortunately he wants to treat this job as a 9-5 with no self inprovement outside the games. Great talent poor awareness of effort it takes to be a true professional & leader.

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