Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Phil Kessel Must Go

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Apr 8, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports


That’s a strong word isn’t it? I’m not questioning Kessel’s dedication to the game itself. There are no doubts that he loves playing hockey and is dedicated to the game. He has represented his country in international play on numerous occasions including the past two Olympic Games.

In 2006, while with the Boston Bruins, Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He missed only 11 regular season games before returning and was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy following the season.

We all know what happens when Phil Kessel has the puck. He has the ability to change the game with one quick rush down the ice. His bullet shot can make a goalie look stupid in the blink of an eye. Is he dedicated to being a complete player though? The kind of player that you can count on in all situations in any kind of game?

Watch any game from the past season and you just might pull your hair out watching Kessel without the puck. He seems to change only when he’s tired and usually only after losing the puck in the offensive zone. Kessel was a -34 this past season and it doesn’t end there. He has been a minus player in all six of his seasons as a Toronto Maple Leaf including a -20 in the 2010-11 season.

In the past, Kessel’s defensive deficiencies have been overshadowed by his unbelievable puck wizardry but those days are over. He is under the microscope now and it isn’t looking good. Gone are the days of head coaches allowing him to play only one way. The new head honcho has guaranteed that everybody will bring it or they won’t be playing in Toronto.

Don’t get the wrong idea here. I am not “picking” on Phil Kessel. I am merely trying to remind and inform you of where we are in the “Phil Kessel era.” There are some who are suggesting that Mike Babcock can somehow “make it all better.” Maybe he can get through to Phil and make him the complete player we all wish that he could be.

Can that happen? I don’t know. Maybe it can but are the Leafs, an organization that is apparently looking for a fresh new start, going to take that chance? For argument’s sake, let’s say they do allow Phil Kessel to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs next season. At first, things look good. Kessel actually makes an effort in the off-season to get his body into shape. He is actually showing interest in playing a two-way game and Babcock seems to be getting through to him.

Then what happens at some point if it all goes sour? Kessel resorts back to the lazy one-dimensional player that he has shown to be for the first six seasons here. So what do you do now? Trade him? If anybody thinks his value is at an all-time low now just wait until that meltdown happens. What does Phil Kessel’s value become if it is determined that he can’t play for Mike Babcock? Nobody will touch this guy with a ten-foot pole wrapped in tinfoil if he shows the inability to play for yet another coach here in Toronto.

And make no doubt about it; unlike Wilson, Carlyle, and Horacek, Kessel will not win this time. This is Mike Babcock’s team. This past weekend after the draft was complete, the new Leaf coach spoke to the media. He was asked if he had spoken to the players and said that he had, although not in person.

“Anything (negative) that’s been going on, it’s going to be cleaned up. I told them straightforward, the No. 1 characteristic of being a Leaf is a good person, period. You don’t fit that, you’re not going to be here.”

He also added…

“We’re going to look after each other and make this a safe place to play and to play hard. You can count on that. Right now, we’re not going to be the most talented group and I have no problem with that. But we’re going to walk with our heads held high. We’ll train that way, practise that way, eat that way, sleep that way. We’re going to be Maple Leafs.”

The question remains… will Phil Kessel be one?

Be sure to check out my “MONDAY MORNING LEAF POINTS” column every Monday morning here at Editor In Leaf. Send all hate mail to and please follow me on Twitter @robb_ellis

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