Phil Kessel’s comments that "It might not be working out here" via the National Post have hockey fans wondering exactly what he means. Is Kessel unhappy in Toronto? Is Kessel frustrated by his recent slump?
That people are taking Kessel’s frustration as a sign he’s unhappy in Toronto and some sort of problem child seems a bit off base to me. First and foremost it’s important to remember that Phil Kessel is an awkward guy who’s a terrible public speaker. He says dumb things constantly without appreciating the subtlety of his words. As far as the quote goes all that’s important is how he actually feels and how the team operates behind closed doors which we’ll never know and shouldn’t bother speculating on.
As for why he’s frustrated I think it’s pretty obvious; the Leafs have their 2nd through 4th best players on the 2nd line (Grabovski, MacArthur, Kulemin) while the third line has Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong. Phil Kessel plays primarily with Joey Crabb and Tyler Bozak, who have combined for 63 career points in 138 games.
Phil Kessel is a goal scorer but he’s a 23 year old kid struggling with the weight of the world on his shoulders in Toronto. In a lot of ways it’s not fair to Kessel that his play is compared to a trade his General Manager made and it’s unfair that early in the Leafs’ rebuild Kessel’s being asked to carry the load alone and answer publicly for the Leafs’ failings when things get rough.
Should Kessel have made this public? Obviously not, but Ron Wilson isn’t helping things by throwing Kessel under the bus here. As fans we’re frustrated by the Leafs’ poor play; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that a group of professional athletes who spent their whole lives growing up being awesome at hockey and winning lots of games are also frustrated by losing.
We’ve all said stupid things when we’ve been frustrated. Lord knows the over 50% divorce rate in North America speaks to that. This will blow over. If I had to guess it’d be that Kessel doesn’t want out of Toronto; he wants some real linemates and to play for a winning team. You know, the same thing all of us want for him.