Phil Kessel cannot be the face of the franchise. Even if his production was slightly better, he does not embody the Leafs spirit. At this point in time, I don't even want to see him on the Leafs, and considering what we gave up for him, this hurts a lot to say.
A typical Kessel shift involves him skating with the puck past the offensive blue line, and either take a shot outside of the circles or he loses the puck as soon as someone is near him. Despite his speed, he has no ability to retrieve the puck, or even retain the puck. The only other player I can recall that played like that is Maxim Afinogenov.
His play has disgusted me so much that I even fired him from my fantasy team, despite the fact that the quality of Right Wingers available in Free Agency are not better than him. Even Kovalev can retrieve pucks when he wants to, and I'm not sure if it's a conditioning or strength problem with Kessel or not, but he has won very few battles this season. He seems tired all the time after skating the length of the ice, and then can't skate back to make plays.
The only word I can think of for this type of play is atrocious, and that's why it reminds me of Afinogenov. Skate up quickly and lose the puck or take a far shot. That's it. So is it a fair comparison? Which one is better? Let's compare stats:
Phil Kessel - $4.5m this year (from capgeek), 5th year in the league
On pace for: 35 goals, 15 assists, 50 points
Best year (2008-2009) (normalized to 82 games): 42 goals, 28 assists, 70 points
Maxim Afinogenov - $1.1m in 2005-2006 (from hockey zone plus), 6th year in the league [the highest he was ever paid was $3.5m]
That year (normalized to 82 games): 23 goals, 55 assists, 78 points [edited. Thanks to Be26 for pointing out my math error!]
Best year (2006-2007) (normalized to 82 games): 34 goals, 56 assists, 90 points [was paid $3m for this year]
You can argue that goals are worth more than assists, that he faces better competition, and that Afinogenov's team was much better around him than Kessel's. Is it Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, another first round pick and $1.9m against the cap different?
The only silver lining I'm clinging on to is that Kessel will gain some strength the way Stamkos did and that his best year (which should be in two years if the Afinogenov model holds true) is yet to come.