You can boo, you can cheer, you can wave around your foam bear claw until your arm goes numb. But no matter how you react to Phil Kessel's return to the TD Garden on Saturday with his new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the young sniper will likely show the same amount of emotion he did through the majority of his tenure in Boston: none.
This summer proved to be a roller coaster for the young winger from Wisconsin. Not only did he undergo shoulder surgery, but the then-21-year-old also went through tumultuous contract negotiations with the Bruins' front office before eventually leaving the place he called home for more than four years for a hockey hotbed a country away.
But on Saturday night, Kessel will return to the place where he got his professional start. Here are the top 10 emotions Kessel will stir up among Bruins fans upon his first return to the Hub since being dealt to the Maple Leafs this offseason.
It wouldn't be Boston if this city's strong-minded fans claimed to miss an athlete who betrayed the city. For the ungrateful fan watching Kessel take the ice for the first time, there are likely to be a lot of four-letter words. Said fan will try with his whole heart to prove that Kessel was never that good. You'll hear lines like the following:
"His scoring touch can be replaced!"
"He was allergic to the corners."
"He flopped in the postseason two years ago!"
Just wait until Zdeno Chara catches him with his head down streaking through the neutral zone. It's going to be nothing short of comical to see one of the fastest skaters in the league run into a solid 7-foot wall of Black and Gold.
No matter the beating the Bruins may deliver to the Leafs on Saturday, it's never easy to see your leading scorer from a season ago wearing the other team's colors. It may remind irritated Hub fans of promising players that got away and other deals that never panned out.
No one gets away with stringing along Boston fans — certainly not the way Kessel and his agent did this offseason. We were the ones who drafted him fifth overall in 2006, stuck with him through his down times and turned him into the stud that he is now. And now's the time to pay him back for leaving the Hub with a few elbows, a couple of slashes and perhaps a Garden-wide "Overrated!" chant.
Admit it, there's a place in your heart that you've reserved for the little fella. We watched Kessel develop into the prized possession he's become. We were there for his successful battle against testicular cancer. It's tough to see the little ones grow up and move on with their lives, isn't it?
Despite playing in just 15 games this season due to his rehab from injury, Kessel already has 10 goals on the season whereas Boston's leading scorers, Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm, have just eight apiece in nearly twice as many games played. Why can't we get goal scorers like that?
It's one thing to be traded, but it has to be tough to be dealt to arguably the worst team in the league in the biggest hockey market in the world.
On the other hand, who cares if he's playing on a terrible team? He signed his name to a $27 million contract. Think about that weekly paycheck when you're trying to spread this holiday season's shopping spree over three maxed-out credit cards.
This game is a business. As much as fans may not want to believe it, the most important thing for these athletes is financial stability. Kessel came to Boston as a kid and left a man. We shouldn't be mad at him for choosing such a juicy contract. We should be glad we gave him his first memories in the NHL. We should be happy that because of what Boston did for him — helping him to develop into a bona fide stud — he has become the go-to guy for a historic franchise.
What would have happened if the Bruins had re-signed Kessel this summer? This Boston team is obviously on its way up and a sniper like Kessel doesn't come around too often. Who knows? Maybe Phil the Thrill would have been wowing the North End with a decade-plus of 40-goal seasons, thanks to Marc Savard setting him up and Milan Lucic protecting his back. Ah, what could have been.