Phil Kessel is the best player the Toronto Maple Leafs have seen in years. You can't argue against it.
Over the last five seasons in Toronto, Kessel played 364 games tallying 333 points. He averages 20 minutes per game and is a player the Leafs cannot do without. He's 27 years old and in the peak of his NHL career. He matched a career-high in goals last season with 37 for 80 points. Two seasons prior he scored 82 points.
Kessel is picked on by media. You can't argue against it.
A professional athlete will always have to brush things off and turn the other cheek. Kessel has done exactly that for his tenure in Toronto. Still, he's picked on for not being more charismatic, honest, and available to media. He's not the captain, he's just their best player. He's not James Reimer who can't wipe the smile off his face. He's not Dion Phaneuf that answers the tough questions. He's Phil, the guy who scores the most points and keeps a low profile.
Toronto, and Canadian team's media in general, is known for chewing up players and spitting them out. Nazem Kadri has done an exceptional job fielding questions and taking demotions in stride over the last five years. He was born in Ontario and wants to be with the team. For other players like Lee Stempniak who experienced success when they left the team, they preferred to be rather anonymous. That doesn't happen in Toronto.
Toronto wants it all: charismatic players with the skill of Wayne Gretzky and the class of Nik Lidstrom. Players like P.K. Subban don't come around often and even Montreal finds ways to criticize their best defenseman.
It would come as a surprise if Kessel's contract listed "being nice to the media" and "giving well thought-out answers to reporters" as a requirement. He does his job on the ice and he does it well. Why should he have to care what a couple of beat writers think about him?
The real answer is, he really doesn't care at all. He's the perfect player in this environment where the media can wear you down just as fast as the competition on the ice. He doesn't let anyone in his head because he doesn't read what others have to say about him, or so it seems. He's not trying to brush off any negativity, he's successful at it. He's the perfect player to have in a city that tries to ruin their players as soon as the trade or draft call is complete.
Kessel has not only gone about his business but he's made Tyler Bozak look real good, I mean, too good. He's mastered Toronto in five years, a task Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul are working tirelessly at to keep up the same "don't care" attitude.
He admitted to only skating ten times during the summer, which started a firestorm amongst the media. How could the best player, the leader of the team, the guy they need the most not work hard, they said. Well, he worked as hard as he needed to and took the rest of the summer off. Did they want him to lie? Kessel doesn't care what they want to hear.
If the media can call Kessel out of shape and lazy, Kessel can fire back with an admission that sent the city into a spiral of despair. The season's over, Kessel didn't work himself to the bone and come to camp tired out, that Stanley Cup is now further away than it was last year. Get over it. The mean girl attitude towards Kessel simply doesn't phase him.
If anyone is the right fit for this city, it's Toronto's best player. It's gotta be Phil.