Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Phil Kessel Must Go

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“If you’re an everydayer… and you’re honest about your approach and your professional with the way you eat, the way you drink, the way you live. The way you live away from the rink. It shows when you come to the rink and the fans appreciate who you are.”Mike Babcock, May 21- Sportsnet

Insert all the “cheeseburger” jokes you want in here. I’ve heard them all and seen the clever internet memes. The truth is, Kessel HAS gained weight since he was traded to Toronto in September of 2009. He was 21 then and just three years into his pro hockey career at that point.

The argument might be that ALL men gain weight as they get older. Sorry but that argument doesn’t work with professional athletes. Take a look at the photo of Phil taken on January 24 of this year at the 2015 NHL All Star Game. Now convince me that is the body of an $8,000,000 a year professional athlete. I’m no fashion aficionado but that is a man who is still wearing a sport jacket that may have fit him when he first joined the Maple Leafs. That was almost six years ago. It doesn’t fit anymore.

The video below is from September of 2009, the day he was introduced to the media as the newest Toronto Maple Leaf. There is no denying that Kessel looked fitter and healthier. Is it a thyroid problem as some have suggested? Who knows but there is no denying that Phil’s dedication to fitness has been called into question recently.

In September of 2014, reporters asked Kessel about his summer training regimen. It wasn’t exactly the type of answer you’d expect from one of the elite players in the NHL.

Honestly, I skated maybe—I don’t want to tell you this—but I skated 10 times maybe all summer. I don’t talk hockey or have anything to do with hockey in the summer. I probably take a month off. I live in Florida in the summer, so I go down there and golf and fish and do that kind of stuff and get away, and then I’ll start working out again.” -Sportsnet

Anytime a player’s production drops considerably, as Kessel’s did this past season, every possible cause will be analyzed including his willingness to do the things necessary to stay in shape. Not including the lockout shortened season, Kessel had his lowest goal (25) and point (61) totals since his rookie year with the Boston Bruins back in the 2006-07 season. One has to wonder if the extra weight that Kessel has obviously been carrying around is to blame. It also makes his very nonchalant response about his off-season training methods that more disappointing.

Will Phil Kessel be a different person this summer after his disappointing 2014-15 season? That remains to be seen but a tweet from TSN’s Darren Dreger on Wednesday seemed to indicate just that.

What we do know is that Kessel will be in fact returning to Toronto in July if only to to run his new youth hockey camp. And even if he is planning to work with Roberts, that doesn’t mean he will be a Toronto Maple Leaf next year. It would be in Kessel’s best interests to be in shape next season regardless of what city he plays in.

Next: Dedication