While it’s generally bad business to ship out a 36-goal scorer, this was different. This was Phil Kessel.
The kid who entered the league with a tremendous amount of hype had, for the most part, lived up to it in his first three years in the league. He got better each year — statistically, at least — and provided the Bruins with a legitimate and much-needed goal-scoring threat. All that while overcoming testicular cancer in his rookie season. He led the Bruins in goals despite playing just 70 games in 2008-09, a season in which the Bruins finished with the most points (116) since 1972.
And then, he was shipped away.
While most of us could understand that Phil the Thrill wasn’t exactly a weight room junkie, and while we could clearly see the kid couldn’t spell backcheck if you spotted him every “C” and “K,” we still had to wonder.
Was Claude Julien too firm a coach for Kessel? Was the bench boss just being stubborn? Was sending the team’s best scoring threat to the press box in the playoffs really the right thing to do?
What about Peter Chiarelli? Had he just made the worst mistake of his career?
And what about Kessel himself? He had deficiencies, yes, but how much did he hurt a team that earned a No. 1 seed in the East? The team went 94-48-22 in his final two seasons in Boston, so how much of a problem was he?
Given the benefit of a season and a half, we can say with a certain level of confidence that the deal worked out in the Bruins’ favor. We can also state with full confidence that it certainly wasn’t the second-worst trade in the history of the NHL.
The mess that Kessel has caused up in Toronto in the past week is just the latest reminder. Kessel said that he “doesn’t really talk” with coach Ron Wilson (sound familiar?). He hinted that maybe things “just aren’t working out” on his current line and expressed an overall sense of frustration with the Leafs, the same club that shipped away its entire future to acquire him, only to follow that up with a five-year, $27 million contract.
“I can’t get anything going, so maybe it’s time for a change or something,” Kessel said over the weekend. “Who knows?”
One person who might know is the coach, who stated plainly that Kessel isn’t working hard to break out of his scoring slump (now at 11 games). But, as Kessel let us know, he and Mr. Wilson don’t really talk.
As a result, Kessel is quickly losing his hero status in Toronto. One Toronto Star story praised the hardworking Clarke MacArthur as “the anti-Kessel.” Another Sun story described Kessel’s words to the media as a “tacit bitch-slap-back at the coach” and suggested that Kessel may stop talking to the media altogether shortly. The Toronto Sun said that Kessel “only has himself to blame.”
Now, in Tyler Seguin, the Bruins don’t necessarily have Wayne Gretzky under their control, but they do have a kid with all-world talent and a pint-sized ego. Seguin’s seen his ice time cut back and his role reduced, and you haven’t so much as heard a peep from him. He’s learning and, more importantly, he’s working.
Add in the Bruins’ selection of Jared Knight last season with a pick that also came in the Kessel package, and consider what kind of damage the Bruins can do on the trade market with the 2011 first-rounder from the Leafs, and the deal is an absolute win for Boston.
Kessel, meanwhile, is toiling away in Toronto, creating controversy for a team with the fifth-worst record in the entire league.
It’s a mess that Julien and Chiarelli no doubt notice. Forgive the two if they can’t hold back a grin.