Hey Guys, Remember when Phil Kessel was 'Sluggish'?

Steven Tzemis
February 27 2014 08:38PM

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I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here.

It wasn’t too long ago (this morning) that people were complaining about Phil Kessel. The Toronto Star published an article (yesterday) saying Kessel looked sluggish during practice Wednesday morning, often dropping to one knee and he was the first one to leave the ice, which is totally fine. Then people all around decided to go after Phil Kessel, saying his season was over. One sluggish practice, and he’s left out for dead.

And then, Kessel scored a goal and an assist against the New York Islanders tonight, squashing any thought of his season being “over.”

If anyone bought into this idea of Kessel’s season being over, please change your ways and don’t be so quick to criticize. This is the same Phil Kessel who now sits tied for second in the league in scoring with 67 points – ahead of everyone not named Sidney Crosby or Ryan Getzlaf – and second in the league in goals with 32. The same Phil Kessel who just won the award for best forward in the Olympics after scoring five goals and eight points in six games.

This is also the same Phil Kessel who is constantly criticized by a lot of people in Toronto. He’s too shy in front of the cameras. He’s lazy. He slouches when he skates. He doesn’t lead the team in practice. He doesn’t shave his damn beard. For some reason, a certain faction of Leafs fans and journalists think Kessel is the problem. “Trade the bum” and “Kessel sucks” are comments that can be seen on probably every single Leafs fan page on Facebook.

People aren’t satisfied with two straight point-per-game seasons. People aren’t satisfied with second in the league in scoring. And it’s nearly impossible to see why. Is it because Brian Burke traded two first round picks to get him? Because if you ask me, the winner of a trade is whoever got the best player, and the Leafs sure as hell got the best player in that trade. Boston has Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson to show for it.

But even after all Kessel has done for the Leafs, you still get people saying his season was derailed by the Olympics after one practice. All that stuff I said above doesn’t matter because he was the first one off the ice. Patrick Kane – who by the way plays with Jonathan freaking Toews – calling Phil Kessel the best player he’s ever played with apparently holds no credence.

People for some reason don’t think playing eight games in Russia on a nine-hour time difference can have a player feeling a little sluggish. Tuukka Rask didn’t play in Boston’s first game back but nobody jumped on his back. Matt Duchene said he felt terrible all day leading up to his game yesterday, but nobody in Colorado said his season was over.

It’s time people start revelling at what Phil Kessel has become. He’s transformed from a one-dimensional sniper when he arrived in Toronto to a bonafide superstar who can dominate a game single-handedly. He’s the best player to don a Leafs uniform since Mats Sundin, and is well on his way to becoming one of the best players to ever wear the Blue and White Maple Leaf on his chest.

I’ll admit, I was part of a faction of people a few years ago that didn’t believe you could build a team around Phil Kessel. I thought he was a great complimentary player, but I thought a player like Dustin Brown was a better component to a team vying for the Stanley Cup. Boy, was I proven wrong.

Watching Phil Kessel play hockey is like watching a painter paint a masterpiece. He’s become so good at what he does, it’s a surprise when he doesn’t score. I can argue that Kessel could be the best player in the league aside from Sidney Crosby right now, and I’d have a pretty good argument. Better than Alex Ovechkin. Better than Evgeni Malkin. Better than Patrick Kane. He may not be a completely better player than those guys, but he sure is playing better than them right now. He should garner MVP consideration for what he’s done, not criticism for something he hasn’t done.

Let’s stop criticizing Kessel for every single thing he does and let’s wait until he actually does something worthy of criticizing.

Kessel is a superstar. Love him. Hate him. But either way, deal with it. 

Allen Iverson said it best: 


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Steven Tzemis is a third year journalism student at Ryerson University, who has been a hockey fan his whole life and has been playing hockey since he could walk. He's also an NFL and NHL writer for Vavel.com/en-us/. You can follow him on twitter: @StevieTz
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#1 NotEnoughPhil
February 27 2014, 08:54PM
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Now this is amazing. People don't see what Phil actually does on the ice. I'm proud to see him wear Blue and White. Have faith in Phil.

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#2 Mike
February 27 2014, 09:05PM
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Great story, one of the Best

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#3 leafer4life
February 27 2014, 10:18PM
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Kessel did score a goal tonight but did you notice on the PP that Gardiner gaffe, that it was a poor pass in traffic by Kessel that led to this. Kessel is dynamite but let's not pretend he is perfect and without fault.

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#4 Toronto Maple Leafs
February 28 2014, 03:21AM
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I personally think he is a great and stylish player.. He always believe in Practice more then practice.. As we all know practice makes man perfect.

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#5 FlareKnight
February 28 2014, 09:16AM
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I honestly think fans should be less criticized about what is said about Kessel and have that turned more than the media. Most of the Kessel talk I saw going into the game was how stupid the Toronto Star was for writing a dumb article like that. Guy gets back from leading the Olympic tournament in scoring and the best our media can come up with is "he looks sluggish in practice?"

This is why there's no point in reading the sports section anymore. Just guys looking to say controversial or negative things to get readers.

Good article and certainly a good message.

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#6 Leaf Fan in Mexico
February 28 2014, 09:42AM
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I am still of mixed opinion. I love Kessel's shot, love his wheels, and like his somewhat improved two way play.

Superstar? Not yet.

Superstars raise the level of his team's play noticeably and consistently. Superstar by my definition is someone who leads his team to victory or very great heights on a consistent basis.....

Put it this way, Kessel on the Penguins or Chicago, a very very good winger, but not a superstar.

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#7 Jeremy Ian
February 28 2014, 11:33AM
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Good piece. The issue is the media. Fans are all over the place, over-perceiving problems at home and exaggerating the greenery on the other side of the fence. Just goes with Leaf territory after such a long drought.

But journalism, esp The Star, nowadays is about drawing in readers, not through insight or information (for either of those, better off right here on this site), but with sensational claims. Better off reading the informed stuff on this site....

Kessel's a player you build a franchise around. An absolutely necessary, though not sufficient, condition for success. Gets better every year.

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#8 Brad Mitchell
February 28 2014, 12:26PM
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Not criticizing Phil here, but everyone seems to be missing the joke regarding Kane's compliment of Phil. Kane and Toews, although BFFs forever, have a history of giving fun little jabs to each other through the media.

Kane's pump of Kessel was more about giving a dig to Toews, not the first or last time it will happen.

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#9 Bob
March 04 2014, 11:28PM
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My problems with Kessel lie in what you don't get with him -- we all know he can put the puck in the net; however, he brings No leadership, No character, No defensive abilities nor attention to defensive responsibilities... he really just doesn't care... No physical game; No blocked shots; a TERRIBLE career plus/minus; a TERRIBLE Giveaway ratio... and all this with a $8 Mil salary! Anyway, on the bright side, here's a great Kessel Video Below -- ENJOY:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I5QUvxI97Y

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