Custom Search

A Kessel no-show, a few questions for you and a little bit of this and a little bit of that at VLM today…

It’s a Maple Leaf playoff ‘off-day’ on Monday and Tuesday (it feels like I haven’t said that in years, quite likely because it has been, well…years) so I don’t have a lot to discuss right now.  I’ll just throw a couple of things into the hopper and see if you want to bat around any of these subjects in the comments…

  • Toronto scribes were evidently frustrated on Monday afternoon when Phil Kessel declined the inevitable media “scrum” request. (Even Leaf GM Dave Nonis had to address it, apparently, saying it wouldn’t happen again- Phil’s absence, that is) As a Leaf fan, does Kessel’s “non-comment” or “refusal”, if you will, trouble you at all?  Do you think he has an obligation to stand there and take the same old questions?  Or are you just as happy he is spending more time getting focused on playing the Bruins versus talking about playing the Bruins?
  • Who do you want to play on the first two lines if Bozak is a no-go for Game 1? (I think, contrary to what some are suggesting, we would miss the young center big-time if he is not ready to go in this series.  I love what Kadri has done this season, but do you really want him up against Bergeron head-to-head every night- and Chara, too? Do you honestly believe Colborne is ready to step in and play the role he would have to against an experienced playoff team like the Bruins?)
  • Do you have a preference as to who will make up our defense corps in Game 1, beyond Phaneuf, Gunner, Fraser and Franson?
  • Now that we know it’s the Bruins, do you want to see Orr and MacLaren in the lineup?  Just one?  Or neither?


If you’re looking for some Leaf-only chat, I invite you to download the latest “Leaf Matters’ podcast (Episode 59).  It features a round-table playoff preview conversation with two of the fine young writers from one of the best Leaf sites out there, Maple Leaf Hot Stove.  Michael Stephens and Jon Steitzer (who also runs his own site, Yakov Mironov) took part and it was great fun looking ahead to the Bruin Leaf match-up. 

We covered a range of topics, talking over personnel decisions that may impact the series.

As always, the show is available on iTunes  and also on the PodAlmighty Network.  If you enjoy the show, do us a favour and leave a rating on iTunes!


If you missed yesterday’s post, it may speak a bit to the challenge Kessel might well feel heading into the Bruins series.  The column may make his media “no show” Monday a bit more understandable. He may not be inclined to spend yet more time on the same old, well-worn media subjects.  Click here to check that VLM post out…


  1. I don't really blame Kessel, he had to know he was going to get 200 versions of the same "Do you feel a bunch of pressure playing the bruins" question. He's not really a guy that likes talking to the media at the best of times, I'd really rather the Leafs protect their best player when he doesn't want to speak to the media.

    1. Yes, I was interested to see, mapleleafmjt that Nonis (if I understood correctly) felt obligated to say it wouldn't happen again. I'm usually all for players having to "face the music" (it is part of what they get paid for, after all), but teams need to give their players some mental space, especially at this time of year, if the media won't- and they won't.

      Kessel's not going to say anything new, we know that. And if he slips up, it will be huge news. Not "fair", but it is what it is...thanks for chiming in, mapleleafmjt.

  2. I am a little surprised at Kessel's reaction. All he has to say is that "I will face a tough challenge and I will do as much as I can. Sometime it will go in some times not but I will play my game and hopefully we will have success. We haven't had much success recently nor have I personally. I look forward to the challenge and hope that it will go in our favour. I know they are a great team but we have proven that we can be beat them and we will do what we can to win. thank you and I hear Brizgalov spoke about the universe or something again"

    If he runs now, how will he face "Thank you Kessel" before the warm up. Good for Nonis. You don't beat the demons with your back.

    1. As I said above, normally I'd be in support of players generally making themselves available, Lukas. I wonder if this should have been addressed ahead of time, with the Leafs p.r. people simply saying Phil's not available today (Monday), maybe tomorrow (Tuesday) and then the media won't be ticked- and Nonis doesn't have to insert himself. Seems like this could have been avoided but maybe I'm missing something.

      To your point, Phil has answered the questions already; yes, he could spout the platitudes, as you suggested. And maybe that would have been the best approach. But somehow I sympathize with him. If he plays hard (and I'm sure he will) in this series, that's the most important thing. He hasn't been, to the best of my knowledge, discourteous or disrespectful with reporters- just absent today!

    2. I don't know what he was thinking but I wouldn't think he's a guy who would have done anything purposefully bordering on disrespecting anyone. To me he just seems uncomfortable more than anything else. I would think he is just preparing himself and just wasn't savy enough to work the media like some that comes so naturally. It is really in jest on my part but my point is that he will face it much worst come the time when the chips are down and as you said the pr should have handle it better. I still believe he needs to deal nonetheless but hopefully really deal with it on the ice.

  3. I believe Kessel has every right to not talk to the media if he wishes not to - especially when we all know the "beating a dead horse" type questions that are gonna be asked of him.

    If there is a person that the media should be hounding is Randy Carlyle about his line-up decisions - which seemed to have been a bit weird in the last two weeks to be frank.

    I can't believe he didn't give Jake Gardiner a chance to show-up in the line-up in a game once they had clinched a playoff spot.

    More into the defensive pairings for game one - My ideal pairings would be Phaneuf-Gunnarson; Liles-Fraser; and Gardiner-Franson. I think this set-up would bring puck-moving/good first-pass to each pairing/along with a physical presence as well - we should know we cannot out-play the bruins physically but we can with speed and good puck movement/management - which has been sorely lacking since 2-3 weeks now.

    Also, i'd like the forward lines to be something like this:

    -assuming Bozak is not present





    or Reunite - Mac/Grabo/Kuli and then have JVR/Kadri/Kessel & Lupul/Colborne/Frat

    I think these line-ups just may bring something fresh to the forwards line-ups and the minutes can be a little bit more even - as u are spreading out the potential offensive threats into the top 3 lines.

    I believe unless grabo is seriously unfit for the minutes - he should be the one against Bergeron as much as possible for the leafs.

    Let me know what you think?

    A little side note from the main topic - here are the names of the commentators in the leafs/bruins series on CBC:

    Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Glenn Healy and Scott Oake

    Anon from Scarborough

    1. I believe I know what you're thinking with that lineup, Scarborough Anon. And it could work. I would be concerned with a couple of things, though. Gardiner and Liles together could be a bit of an issue in our own end. Puck-moving ability, for sure, but not hard enough on the puck, I don't think, especially against the Bruins. But maybe I'm wrong.

      Up front, I do think you need someone to take care of our forwards. Fraser can't do it alone. If Kadri plays the agitator, he'll get tuned up by the Bruins if there is no forward there to protect him. (We saw what happened against a poor team in Florida, and those guys barely cared at that point...) I believe he is becoming a disliked player around the league- which is fine if you can defend yourself, or if you have teammates to handle that for you...but without Orr or MacClaren there, who takes care of him?

      Can Colborne really handle that kind of assignment, I wonder. And I have no sense of a history of chemistry between Grabbo and Kessel.

      I guess that's why I think Bozak is so valuable (not 5 million a year, but valuable on this roster, in this lineup). He fills a role adequately and also kills penalties. Without him, we're asking/needing other guys to handle assignments I don't think they're ready for, including Kadri and Colborne.

      It will be very interesting to see what Carlyle does if Bozak can't play, Scarborough Anon...should be a fun few days! Thanks for posting, let's see what happens.

  4. Well, my thought about including Gardiner and Liles in the line-up is for one reason - I believe the bruins are bad at handling - fast-skating, good puck moving, scoring defensemen - like it was demonstrated by Karlson in the last regular season game.

    And the leafs have been so horrible at pushing the puck up the ice or making smart passes that at this point - I as a fan am ready for gardiner and liles in together rather than the mediocre d effort that has put all the load on Reimer the past few weeks.

    I don't know about this year - which has generally been bad for grabo - I think we may end-up finding out - that it was due to the stomach issues - that randy was also limiting grabo.

    Oh and in the past year - the limited amount of time that the two have played together have produced at least two memorable game winning goals - both in the 2010-11 season end stretch - but I am sure they have had other moments.

    1st one was an overtime gwg by grabo - set-up by kessel against Fleury
    2nd one was 2nd period gwg by grabo - set-up by kessel against Miller - in the do or die game - on March 29th 2011.

    Kessel could reignite grabo - and grabo maybe able to take away some of the checking from kessel on the 1st line.

    Just some thoughts....

    Anon from Scarborough

  5. Oh and I forgot to mention - yes I agree that Kadri will need some help from tough customers like marchand, lucic, thornton.....

    so we will likely have Orr/McLaren in rather than Hamilton.

    Anon from Scarborough.

    1. Those are all good points, Scarborough Anon.

      I, too, sense Grabbo has not been fully himself this season (like the injured Gunnarsson). That makes a difference. Proper usage of Grabovski is clearly a big issue in Leafland.

      Maybe you're right about Grabbo and Kessel. I guess we may find out!

  6. I think it is a bad sign personally. Playoffs are not the same as the regular season. If Kessel didn't wish to answer questions in a regular season game so be it. However, if the pressure is already getting to him and he doesn't want to face his obligations (and I beleive he is obligated by the league to be available for the press) before the first round even starts how on earth is he going to hole up down the road? Things are not going to get easier and in fact will get exponetialy harder as we move forward. Not only is he not answering questions but now his team mates have to answer questions about why Kessel won't answer questions. Not a good start in my opinion.

    If Bozak can't go my lines would look like this


    Colbourne is a top six forward, give him top six linemates and watch him go. He is big, mobile and skilled. More importantly, he played top minutes on the Marlies so why bring him up to play on the fourth line? That is just setting him for failure. Just like the other young guys, let's see what he has. This is his chance to prove he belongs.

    As for dmen I want to see Gardiner and Liles. The Bruins forecheck like rat bastards and we are going to need guys who can skate and get the puck out quickly to defeat that forecheck.

    I would prefer neither Orr nor MClaren be in the line up. I think Hamilton can play as well as Frattin. Since Carlyle is going to dress both this is a moot question.

    Finally can't wait. PLAYOFFS BABY!!!!!!!!!

    1. I was looking for opinions- and you delivered. Thanks Willbur.

      And yes, it's playoff time- worth the wait?? I think it will be fun....

    2. Whoops that should read "hold up". I'm not sure how you can hole up but if anyone can do it, it would be the super talented Kessel.

      To excited by the PLAYOFFS BABY!!!!!!!!!!

    3. No worries Willbur- it's nice to have this kind of stuff to discuss and debate, instead of talking about our longing for a lottery pick. (I just realized Monday night was the NHL lottery "show" and I didn't even pay attention....)

  7. I have no problem with Kessel (or any other player) not wanting to talk to the media. He wasn't going to say anything new anyway. And it's not like any other player offers ground breaking or spectacular comments either. I just think someone should have known beforehand and given the media the word. Maybee they should do it like euopean soccer: each game the coach and 2 players speak, and it's done.

    If Bozak doesn't play I'd like to see
    JVR / Kadri / Kessel
    Lupul / Grabbo / Kulemin
    Kadri has fire and I don't think the B's will intimidate him.

    The defense I think should be what it has untiil now:
    Paneuf / Gunner
    Fraser / Franson
    and the other pairing of
    Liles / O'Byrne
    after all, if the Leafs didn't need O'Byrne they wouldn't have gotten him. Plus, those two have played together before.

    As for playing ORR and/or McClaren, I think we shouldn't stray from the game we've played all year. Playing the tough guys got us in, so why not continue to play the style you are used to? Changing could throw the guys off and I think the rest of the team genuinely like it when one or both play. If it were up to me though, I'd only play one of them but... Carlyle knowns best I would think.

    1. The soccer model is an effective one, but probably would not satisfy North Americana media as that is not the custom here. Toronto media in particular are a bit spoiled as they have constant access to these guys.

      You may well be right in projecting a Liles/O'Byrne tandem against the Bruins, portuguese leaf. Injuries and performance could alter that, of course, but my sense, too, is it may start that way.

      I'd like to see Grabbo catch fire with Lupul, yes.

    2. I looked it up last night and in fact a team has to make it's players and coaches available to the media for "a reasonable time" after every game AND practice. If they don't they can get fined quite heavily. The fines also rise exponentially. So Nonis is probably tring to nip this behaviour in the bud before it starts to hurt financially.

      Besides it's part of Kessel's job description to answer questions from the media. Like all jobs some parts might not be as fun as others but we have to do them.

    3. My guess is Phil wanted a day away from the "same old". I'm thinking he'll face it today!

  8. I have an interesting analogy to help describe the Kessel situation. I kind of liken it to a scuba diver who hates being around sharks, yet is being forced into a cage and the sharks invited to swarm. The sharks usually go away hungry, but they still swarm for the chance to get even a small bite. Ironically the sharks enjoy that the diver is uncomfortable, and for that reason relish that he is being forced inside the cage. If it is the NHL forcing him into the cage, that is unfortunate. Nonis needs to try and limit the exposure and help protect his player. Let Kessel do his talking on the ice.

    As for player combinations I think Carlyle has severely limited his options due to the fact he has not given sufficient ice time to a couple of his younger players (namely Gardiner and Colborne). They both have a lot of talent, but have not been given sufficient opportunity to show they're ready for regular minutes, and especially under playoff pressure.

    Colborne is a big centre with good hands, and a talented playmaker, but has not been properly tested at the NHL level yet. He could do well, or he could falter under the pressure. Sadly we just don't know. With Gardiner we have seen what he can do, but Carlyle is unforgiving and rather than letting Gardiner work through his mistakes and learn, he has been a healthy scratch. So the confidence is not there. In a perfect world I'd like to see Colborne be the #1 or #2 centre, and Gardiner be the #3 D-man. At this point though, we have no confidence that these guys are able to do the job.

    With respect to Orr and McLaren, we probably need some size and muscle in the lineup against the Bruins. That being said, IMO we only need one of those guys. I might give the edge to Orr simply because he is less apt to commit an unnecessary penalty (other than his normal fighting majors).

    Assuming Bozak is out, here's my preferred forward and defence pairings.

    Kessel - Kadri - JvR
    Lupul - Colborne - Frattin
    MacArthur - Grabo - Kulemin
    Orr - McClemment - Komorov

    Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
    Fraser - Franson
    Kostka (or Liles) - O'Byrne

    If Kostka falters I'd have to go with Liles or Gardiner, though I think Bruins will pressure this D-pairing, as it is the weakest, and most susceptible to mistakes.

    1. Always enjoy hearing your thoughts, Don (TML_fan).

      For me, I'm not sure what Colborne has shown (yes, only limited opportunities, I recognize, but this is not the AHL, and he's not 20 anymore, so I expect him to show something...) to demonstrate he has deserved time over any of Bozak, Kadri, Grabovski and certainly not McClement, a truly smart and determined player. If Colborne becomes what so many seem to think he will be, great. Right now I see a Dustin Penner when he is disinterested- talent but not a ton of motivation a lot of the time. He's mostly "just there".

      I think Leaf fans want so badly for Colborne to be good, because he was a major Burke acquisition. But again, I'm just not sure what exactly he has delivered to make him so highly thought-of, but if people are seeing something, I respect that point of view, especially yours, Don.

      Gardiner had chances and did not deliver what Carlyle was looking for. I love his immense skill and he too may prove me wrong, but long before Carlyle sat him I was concerned (and said so here many times) about how Gardiner would fare in a serious playoff match-up with a team that finishes its checks. I think Carlyle knows exactly what he is doing, but that seems to put me in the minority these days.

  9. kessel's an incredibly talented hockey player... however, a talking-head/spin-doctor he is not. he's uncomfortable in front of the cameras... this is not something new! i don't think these elite athletes should all be expected to handle PR/interviews etc... i feel bad for bryz down in philly, taking a lot of heat from the media, really pressuring the guy with uncomfortable questions... and what recourse does he have? he's not a trained journalist or debater... i'm sure he tried his best in net this season, and he makes the big bucks so the fans want accountability, but management should handle these questions (as they're the ones who 'hired' bryz in the first place!). ah well, pardon my tangent there.

    1. There's no question, Alex, that many athletes are simply uncomfortable (very) in the media spotlight. They love playing, not talking about playing. Kessel does his best in the Toronto fish bowel, but I'm sure there are days he wishes the Florida hockey media was all that he had to experience here...

      Bryz ends up saying some outlandish things. In his case, he too may be uncomfortable, but he also seems to enjoy the limelight at times, yet when things go off the rails he can end up sounding a bit petty. I'm maybe not quite as ready to "understand" and defend him, but you make a fair point that teams need to do a better job of insulating their athletes- or preparing them much better to handle difficult situations that are usually quite easy to anticipate. Thanks Alex.

  10. Michael, I do agree Carlyle knows what he is doing. At this point, neither Colborne or Gardiner have shown him enough to warrant being given much (if any) ice time in the playoffs. IF, he had given them greater opportunity to develop during the season, just maybe they would have proved themselves. Hard to do in a shortened season, but now the uncertainties linger.

    Colborne has only played 5 games. The first two games he was on the 4th line and got about 5 mins TOI both games. The last 3 games (because of injuries) he has averaged around 11 minutes and played 3rd line center. Kadri is an RFA at the end of this year, and we now know he is a quality NHL center and needs to be re-signed. Colborne is an RFA as well, yet we still don't know what this kid might be able to do. How does he get a chance with Bozak, Kadri, and Grabo in the lineup night in and night out?? He's not as flashy and explosive as KAdri, but he has other talents that Kadri (and Bozak) don't have. Kid just needs some playing time, but not sure that is going to happen without an injury or a trade.

    1. I don't want to suggest Colborne won't be a player (I don't know if he will or won't). If, as you say, he as the tools, then it will come down to desire. Players with his youth and size and talent always find a home, if they really want it.

      For right now, I think Carlyle has done a nice job of experimenting with different players all year long. He tried Kostka, Kadri, Holzer, gave Fraser a shot when many coaches would have pigeon-holed him as a minor-leaguer. Frattin has played, Colborne has played a bit. None of the guys I just mentioned were close to "proven" NHL'ers heading into this season, but now we know they can all play- and all need to work on their game, like most players.

      I'm comfortable Colborne will get a full shot at training camp- heck maybe before, if the Leafs play long enough this spring!

  11. I am ok with Kessel declining to be interviewed. I like to left alone to think about important future tasks. It might be a sign that Kessel will be very focused and energetic for the first game.

    The are others that are far more comfortable in talking to the media. Lupul? JVR? Kadri has no problem with the media, even for such a young player. It's one of the reason's I think he will do well in this market.

    I hope Kessel has great game, then tells the media after "I'm keeping this short, I don't want to jinx it."

    On a somewhat realted note, I put my money where my mouth is and picked three Leafs in the office pool: Kessel, Lupul, and Phaneuf.

    1. All very fair points, DP. We all understand players have "obligations", but one no-show on one day in a long season is not necessarily a huge issue. (I would have preferred, as I said above, that the team handled it better, though, in advance...)

      Your pool picks may turn out just fine. I'll say it agin: the Bruins are not unbeatable. Whether the Leafs will do it I don't know, but I do not see Boston winning the East this spring.

      But that's why the play the games, as the saying goes....

  12. I feel Kessel's only obligation is to show up and make his mark on the ice once the playoffs start. Should he manage that, the fans will be happy, his employee will be happy, and media will have something to write about. If he doesn't, well, then there'll be less happiness to go around, but the media will have something to write nonetheless. So media can just suck it up, for all I care.

    We, the Leafs fans are, after too long, at a point where all significant deeds get done on the ice. And certain media people have too long ago lost perspective of the fact that they are just reporting something that matters to people, instead thinking that their reports carry some significance because it's them voicing their opinions about... whatever.

    Just drop the puck already; there'll be plenty to report afterwards.

    1. I have placed a mental 'star' next to your second paragraph today, CGLN.

    2. Hey Micahel,

      I am seeing a lot of debate about Colborne so here is my little tidbit about him.

      just to let you in on colborne's history if u were not familiar - may inform as to why he struggled - last season - after being named player of the week or month - not sure which in the AHL - he slowed down once he lost a steady partner - it was Crabbe I believe - and then he severely injured his wrist - and when he came back - he couldn't be of much impact.

      He has also - still been growing at his age - which I believe as I have heard in the media can be stressful to deal with and harder for a player to put muscle mass on.

      This season after the lockout ended - colborne had flourished in the AHL again - not a player of the month type production but a steady dose of offense - thus the recommendation by (the demanding) Eakins for him to be promoted to the leafs when the need came.

      Now I believe, he is most definitely not ready for #1 or #2 centre - but should definitely be a #3a/3b centre along with McClement going into the Bruins series - lets not forget - the kid does have size at 6'5" and can skate at a decent pace for his size, the rest of his play of course needs refining and improvement.

      Has Carlyle been unfair - no - he has to work with what has been working - but he should keep an open mind about Colborne.

      P.S. The same can be said about Gardiner - and with him don't forget - Carlyle knows gardiner from Anaheim - and Gardiner never made it onto the Ducks - so maybe there is something cooking their that we don't see -or that Gardiner just hasn't shown Carlyle enough yet.

      Anon from Scarborough.

  13. What everyone seems to forget is Kessel can't just blow off the media. It is actaully mandated by the NHL head office that ALL players and coaches have to be available after every game AND practice. Rightly or wrongly it is in his job desricption and he didn't live up to it.

    It's not just another day in a long season Michael. If this was December and Kessel didn't want to talk that would be one thing, nobody would care. This is the Leafs being in the playoffs after 9 years against his old team against whom he has had absolutely no success at all. That is a big story and it became bigger because he didn't get out in front and adress it. It now becomes a distraction that could have been easily avoided. Now his teammates have to answer questions about why Kessel won't talk, is he nervous, is he worried, is the pressure getting to him etc. It could have been all easily taken care of and now it is going to snowball. Not only that if he thinks questions at the start of playoffs is stessful how on earth is he going to handle the pressure as the playoffs move along. God forbid he has a bad start to the series because if he does the questions are going to be 100 times worse than they have been so far.

    Whatever one thinks about the media they are just doing their jobs. This was entirely on Kessel and he is going to have to be the one to fix it.

    If you don't think this is a major story look at the comments. We have just spent an entire day talking about nothing else.

    1. I certainly see your point of view, Willbur. (Normally I would hold that very position; I just think the guy can be cut some slack for one day, and his teammates can do the same as his friends for one day...)

      I've worked with many young athletes, and yes, you generally encourage them to be accessible, etc.. And I sense the Leafs could have got out in front of this one, simply saying in advance that Phil will talk tomorrow (meaning today, Tuesday), when he did not feel like it yesterday.

      He has obligations, for sure, and he normally meets them, I believe. I'm not a Kessel-defender, but for some reason this one I get. But yes, it is a "story" but if he plays well, it will be long-forgotten, I suspect...

  14. It's too bad there are rules that prevent the Leafs from using this as motivational tool for Kessel.

    Just imagine how much more consistent Kessel would be if was he rewarded with an exemption from the interview after every multi-point game.

    We could event make him a better defensive player with threat of extra interview time.

    1. I like that third line, DP- we need a little humour before Game One!

  15. Colborne may emerge as an important player this spring...the jury is out, but I can see you have followed his progress, Scarborough Anon...thanks.