In the wake of the Toronto Maple Leafs surprise firing of general manager Brian Burke, I’ve heard it suggested Dave Nonis, the club’s new GM, should give some consideration toward trading forward Phil Kessel.

To those making that suggestion, I respectfully reply: are you out of your ever-lovin’ minds?

I understand Kessel isn’t perfect. His offensive production can be streaky, his defensive game leaves much to be desired, he’s media-shy, and can’t lift the Leafs single-handedly into the playoffs. Kessel will  always be measured against what Burke gave up over three years ago to the Boston Bruins (two first round picks, one of which became rising star center Tyler Seguin) to acquire him.

Despite those negatives, Kessel has also been the Leafs leading scorer in each of his three seasons with the club. His numbers have steadily improved, from 55 points to 67 to 82. He’s also netted over 30 goals in each of those seasons, turning that trick without a skilled first line center.

As Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe observed, Kessel finished sixth overall in league scoring last season, with only Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Jason Spezza and Ilya Kovalchuk potting more points. He had 201 points in his 234 games as a Leaf, and at 25, has several quality seasons ahead of him.

Kessel’s contract status, however, remains a problem. He currently has only one season left at a cap hit of $5.4 million. He’ll be eligible for UFA status in July 2014, will seek a significant raise (especially if he reaches or exceeds 80 points again in the final full season), and he might prefer moving on to an NHL city where the media glare and fan expectations aren’t as intense as in “Leafs Nation”.

If it appears Kessel’s salary demands could become extravagant, or he indicates a preference to leave Toronto in 2014, then of course the Leafs should consider shopping him; if not during this shortened season, then certainly this summer.

However, if he wants to remain a Leaf, and can be retained for a reasonable ($7 million per season) long-term contract, every effort should be made to retain him.

Despite his faults, Kessel is the Leafs best offensive player. He made significant improvement when Joffrey Lupul joined the club last season, and should maintain that chemistry. If Nonis succeeds where Burke failed and lands a quality first-line center, Kessel’s numbers should only improve, which in turn could help the Leafs end their long absence from the playoffs.

Trading him as a means of undoing what some Leafs fans consider Brian Burke’s biggest blunder would be, in my opinion, a huge mistake.

 

Winnipeg Jets winger Evander Kane stirred up a bit of a fuss last month when he posed on a hotel balcony in Las Vegas holding bricks of money pretending he was crank-calling boxer Floyd Mayweather.

The fuss was largely ginned up by some Winnipeg pundits, rushing to slam Kane for being spoiled, selfish and uncaring over how his picture might be perceived by working class hockey fans.

Since arriving in Winnipeg in 2011 with the rest of his relocated Atlanta Thrashers teammates, Kane has been the subject of baseless rumors over his personal life, as well as media whispers claiming he puts himself above the team.

With the recent end of the NHL lockout and players drifting back to their respective NHL clubs, a Winnipeg Sun columnist singled out Kane for criticism again, this time for not skating with his Jets teammates three days prior to the start of training camp.

That’s right, the fact Kane hadn’t rushed back to Winnipeg to participate in informal skates with his Jets teammates three full days before training camp opened became yet another reason for a local columnist to slam him.

The media “hate-on” for Kane is puzzling. Despite accusations he’s a poor teammate, his stats last season suggest otherwise, as he either led the club or was perched among the team leaders in goals, points, plus-minus, game-winning goals, power-play goals and hits.

It’s been suggested the color of Kane’s skin may be behind the media criticism, but I believe it has more to do with his attitude, or at least how it is observed by in the local press.

Like any 21-year-old, regardless of profession, sex, race or whatever, Kane can be immature at times. Unlike most 21-year-olds, however, his profession and wealth makes him a fixture in the media spotlight, meaning his occasional acts of immaturity garners far more attention. His faults – real and imagined – takes place in public view, whereas everyone else’s only plays out among a small group of family, friends and co-workers.

That’s not to say Kane should be above criticism. If he performs his job poorly, or publicly behaves in a manner away from the ice which might attract the attention of authorities, then he deserves to be singled out for criticism by the media.

However, it appears some in the Winnipeg press are allowing their personal feelings toward a young, cocky, slightly immature player to adversely affect their coverage of him.

 

Same goes for some in the Edmonton media regarding their unnecessarily harsh assessments of Oilers prospect Nail Yakupov during the recent World Junior Hockey Championships.

Yakupov was captain of the Russian team, and raised some eyebrows earlier in the tournament by suggesting Team Canada played dirty.

What set off some in the Edmonton punditry, however, was Yakupov not talking to the press after he made those remarks for the remainder the tournament , leading some to call the 19-year-old a “prima donna”.

That label was hung upon Yakupov by pundits who weren’t even attending the tournament, but instead covered it from the cozy confines of their homes or offices in Edmonton. None bothered to inquire if the Russian coaching staff may have muzzled Yakupov. It also turns out  there was very little post-game media access to players.  In Russia, it’s not the custom for a team captain to speak to the press following a game.

It’s been suggested Yakupov is being unfairly condemned because he’s Russian. His critics denied that accusation, but it still painted them in an unflattering light. Like Kane, Yakupov shouldn’t be above criticism, and his inconsistency at the World Junior certainly merited it.

Still, if Yakupov’s NHL media critics are intent upon hanging labels upon him,  they should at least wait to unsheathe their knives until he’s played a few games in an Oilers jersey.

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4 Responses to Thoughts on Kessel, Kane and Yakupov.

  1. Icebear says:

    Couldn’t agree more!

  2. Captain Ahab says:

    The media had a hard time getting adjusted to another highly touted Russian by the name of Alex Ovechkin. They were not sure what to make of him and some reporters wrote comments that did not portray him in the best light but now they are used to him and the nasty comments, for the most part, have stopped.
    As far as Nail Yakupov and his play at the WJC along with his comments go, I would give him a pass. There will be lots of time to dissect or anatomize this young man once his full time employment as an Edmonton Oiler an the season actually begins.
    He will either win over the hearts and minds of the fans and media alike or his time in the City of Champions will be as inhospitable as their winters.

    • kenboldt says:

      Regarding Ovechkin, you mention that the nasty comments for the most part have stopped. It’s too bad that his elite level play has stopped right along with those comments. :)

  3. Jason says:

    Give Kessel a true center and another legitimate “star”. Let him finally produce as he’s capable and take some of the stardom off of him. He’s a great player, not a franchise player. Give him some pieces to allow him to be a great player.

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