This site has been a massive backer of Phil Kessel since the day he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a post-draft blockbuster by then-GM Brian Burke. The amount of digital ink spent defending him against the local cranks in both the team's fanbase and in the local media could rival that spent documenting the latest moronic adventures of local dimwit Mayor Rob Ford. When Dave Nonis signed Kessel to an 8-year deal worth $64 million dollars it was hoped that this would ensure that Kessel would take the next step from haughty glory boy into the kind of player that you could build a team around. Ideally, a Toronto version of the change that saw Steve Yzerman abandon the pursuit of points to slake his thirst for personal glory into the Steve Yzerman that led a team filled with future Hall of Famers to multiple Stanley Cups but with actual cartilage in his knee.
However, after hearing about Phil Kessel's actions at practice today - fresh from his return from the Sochi Olympics where he represented the United States in the men's hockey competition - I can no longer support the Wisconsin-native's continued presence in the Leafs' lineup. While tallying five goals and three assists netted the forward the star-studded tournament's Best Forward award, it's clear that he has returned to the fold bent on becoming a distraction and detriment to the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hockey is so much more than a goal scoring competition and it is in these vital areas that Phil Kessel is hurting the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The problems were first apparent as soon as practice began as an observer relayed to us:
Phil Kessel looked, well, sluggish. He mishandled the puck early on a two-on-one with linemate Tyler Bozak, hung his head and then seemed to drift off. At various times, he took a knee to catch his breath.
Reports of his lack of dedication to his fitness which have led to what some call a double chin were rampant prior to the beginning of the season. Local vagabond, David Feschuk, has stood outside of the ACC every day since September loudly proclaiming that the Leafs won't ever win anything with Kessel as the driving force of the Maple Leafs.
He is usually joined by a Dr. Evil-looking man clad in full tennis regalia - some have said he bears a striking resemblance to a male's circumcised member - who alternates between demanding Kessel be shipped out of town and sketching plans for a monument for the player with sidewalk chalk. For too long they have been dismissed as cranks but then came the moment that showed that the saying "a broken clock is right twice a day" holds a grain of truth with this eye witness report:
Kessel first Leaf off ice.— Curtis Rush (@CurtisGRush) February 26, 2014
My God. While his teammates were attending training camps in the Caribbean where they presumably were training with local fitness experts, Kessel has apparently allowed his fitness fall to such a state that he cannot even complete a practice. Even worse might have been the revelation from Randy Carlyle that this is not an isolated incident:
Phil is not most energetic individual at the start of practice.
Carlyle added that he couldn't comment on Phil's energy level at the end of practices as he rarely stays until the end. We should have known when HBO's 24/7 cameras captured this disgraceful effort:
Compare that lack of effort with David Clarkson - known as the spiritual centre of the Maple Leafs - and his dedication over the Olympic break:
"The one thing about Clarkie is over the break he didn't go away the way a lot of players did to find the sun," said Carlyle. "He stayed here and worked out and maintained a high level of conditioning, and it shows."
Clarkson's dedication is such that he doesn't partake in the tomfoolery that Kessel seems to find so amusing:
"I don't have social media."
Meanwhile, Kessel seems to use Twitter - a total waste of time for anyone that has ever bothered to enter that particular cesspool - alternately for self-aggrandizement and to torment the impressionable Nazem Kadri:
Phil!— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) July 21, 2013
Had a great day at the Canadian Open pro am @43_Kadri is a real hack though— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) July 25, 2013
Clarkson is already trying to prevent Kessel's lackadaisical effort from poisoning the rest of the team:
"We have to lean on each other. It's not about one player," Clarkson said. "We've got to stick together as a group."
However, things truly came to a head after Phil Kessel decided that he didn't need to put in a full effort after essentially five days of rest. Spare me the talk about the semi-final and bronze medal game as The Hockey News' Ken Campbell reported that the pampered, elitist product of American coddling barely expended any effort:
Phil Kessel scored three goals against Slovenia and looked like he was turning the corner as a player and making the Olympics his coming-out party. Then in the bronze medal game he had a grand total of zero shots.
His flight back was on an NHL charter - ie a method of travel nicer than anyone reading this will ever experience - and probably could not have been any cushier (sensing a theme for the doughy forward?) so he should have been ready to get back to business as the Leafs enter the final 22 games of the season looking to hold off challengers for the final two wild card playoff spots. Maybe he'll compensate for the loafing in the same fashion as he did while in Sochi where he used what one must assume is some sort of performance enhancer:
While Nicklas Backstrom was held out of the Gold Medal Game for using allergy medicine(!), the powerful American lobby saw to it that Kessel's mystery drug didn't affect his status. But the final straw was yet to come:
Classy move by Kessel. Everyone -- from Ovechkin to Backstrom -- has spoken about Oly experience. But Kessel gets 2 days off & snubs us.— Michael Traikos (@Michael_Traikos) February 26, 2014
These poor ink-stained wretches may not have to man street corners to hawk their wares but they do have to stand in chilly practice arenas and travel to far flung locales in order to bring the fans of the Maple Leafs the latest news at what one would imagine is great personal expense. Scrounging for scraps to eat in between rushing to file their stories, these folks stand in stark contrast to the millionaires that they are forced to abase themselves in front of so that you and I can know what colour practice jersey David Bolland is wearing and the exact nature of his latest rehab setback. All that they ask is that these heroes of ours use them as conduits to deliver us their message and Kessel couldn't even summon the strength to churn out a couple of soundbites. As if "pretty disappointed with how things ended" and "hoping to finish the regular season strong" would have been so taxing but I guess when you're rushing home to throw one of your famed "shakers" that every second counts.
It's truly that disdain for those that so valiantly represent the working man, for the folks that save their pennies to buy the tickets and memorabilia, for those that allow Kessel to live a life of comfort and slackerhood, that pushed Kessel's behaviour into the realm of the reprehensible. The Toronto Maple Leafs are so much more than a hockey team. If you ask Tim Leiweke he will inundate you with stories about "profit margins" and "market penetration" and "some stuff that happened before I got here that I guess people care about" that really convey what it means to wear the blue and white. What Kessel's actions demonstrate is a loogie in the face of all of that history and for that reason it is time for Dave Nonis to make a tough decision and right a wrong: it's time to trade Phil Kessel.