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Kessel/Wilson: “tempest in a teapot” or tip of the iceberg?

What would a Leaf win be without an offensive contribution from Mikhail Grabovski?  And lately, Tim Brent, who is working so hard at both ends of the ice?

But there are usually many contributors when a team wins, and Monday night was no exception- Kulemin, Crabb and Schenn among those at the top of the list.

They gave up too many goals, but also scored enough to earn two points.

All the Leafs have to do going forward is to win more games to make this past Saturday's blowout in Buffalo seem like a blip on an otherwise upward swing.

Those who follow this site know that on several occasions, I've referenced the future of the Kessel/Wilson relationship:  as in, how long will it be before something hits the fan?

In fact, in late November, I penned a piece entitled “The Kessel-Wilson relationship” (click on the link to see the earlier story.)  You could sense it was just a matter of time.

I was going to post on this subject Sunday night, based on the post-practice comments from Kessel after practice on Sunday.  But you just knew MLSE damage control would be in full swing Monday, and it was.

Burke evidently met with both parties individually because of the apparent dispute and made point of saying they would have to work things out because Kessel won't be traded and Wilson isn't going anywhere either.

The Leafs would like it to be the case that everything will be fine, but the question is:  is this the end of the story?


A look at Kessel’s body language when he made the initial comments on Sunday made it clear he was indeed talking about major change when he used the word “change” and "things aren't working out here".  Not to parse sentences and all that, but c’mon.  It was obvious.

And his swift backtrack on Monday (on the heels of his tete-a-tete with Burke, no doubt) made it just as clear that he was parroting the Burke party line…as in, "I’m happy in Toronto, I want to play here", etc.

Let's be clear:  Burke didn’t throw away two high lottery picks and pay top dollar to have his young star try to talk his way out of town because he’s frustrated or ticked at the coach.

For his part, Wilson is the classic demanding coach.  Because he has not had a lot to work with here, compared with many of the good teams he has had in the past, we haven’t seen him at his most demanding.  With good teams, Wilson sets (as any good coach does, in their own way) a very high bar and has little patience for players who don’t conform, know their role and do what he needs them to do.

Here, Wilson has had to exhibit patience he probably never thought he had with his team.  He has, instead, taken his frustrations out on the local media.

Kessel is, on the other hand, if not free spirit, at least a young athlete who has likely always been better and more skilled than his teammates in his developing years.  By that I mean more naturally gifted and getting by on natural talent and his blazing speed.  Even at the NHL level he has elite speed and high-level skill. 

He overcome a serious illness to win over some demanding Bruin fans at a young age, but coach Claude Julien eventually had little patience for an elite but un-committed talent. 

At the same time Burke, we recall, was looking for a guy who could score, thus, the eventual trade to the Maple Leafs.

Now, at 23, Kessel is in his second year with the Leafs.  His first season here was delayed by an injury, and hampered by some scoring slumps.  He still put up points and the hope was he would be much better this season.

Seemingly healthy, he has had spurts this year when he produces, but he has been hamstrung by linemates who can’t bury chances and himself not being able to convert opportunities he creates with his speed.

He has been in the midst of another goal-less period, and his ice-time was cut in the loss in Buffalo.  So when he spoke with reporters on Sunday with words that were far from the usual bland script, well, we had our story for the week.

I’m sure this will all “blow over”—on the surface.  That players get ticked with coaches (and vice versa) is as old as sports.  But it was only been a matter of time before Wilson allowed himself to get very specific in his criticisms of Kessel. That wasn’t OK last season, when Phil was Burke’s newest and most important acquisition, on a team desperately short on skill.  That was the honeymoon period.  All was good in public, even when it really wasn’t.

But if Kessel is not scoring 40+ goals, the same deficiencies that troubled Julien in Boston have to be making Wilson less than satisfied, too.

So here it is: the immovable object and the irresistible force.

Wilson is Burke’s guy, but Kessel is Burke’s chosen player—the guy he gave up Tyler Seguin and another high draft choice for.  The guy who is being paid huge money that the Bruins couldn’t—or wouldn’t—pay him.

Kessel was benched, we all recall, on at least one occasion early this season.  But the Leafs were winning and Wilson’s message—arguably—was received.

Now, with a fragile team seeing its season hanging in the balance, well, I have to believe that while this will get “patched up”, there is simmering issue here.

How long can Wilson and Kessel co-exist?

I’ll add the key word:  how long can they co-exist…successfully?




1 comment:

  1. Long suffering Leaf fanFebruary 8, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    In life there are those who are thermometers and than there are those who are thermostat. Phil Kessel is truly a thermometer, so it is hard to read into what he really feels and says. The key to temperamental people like him, is finding which buttons to push without ruffling his feathers too much. If Ron Wilson pushes him too hard, we could see another episode of the “Imlach and Mahovlich show.” Therefore, Mr. Burke, you need to find a number one center soon that can dish the puck to your young prize sniper before this trade completely blows up in your face!