On the day after he shunned local reporters and slipped out the back door at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility, Phil Kessel innocently shrugged his shoulders when asked about the brushoff.
The bashful Kessel remarked that he didn't understand why reporters wanted to talk to him on Monday and that his snub became such a big deal. Apparently, he is the only person in the hockey world who doesn't feel that him going up against his old club, the Boston Bruins -- a team his trade helped build into a Stanley Cup champion -- is a big deal.
Toss in the fact that in 22 games against the Bruins, Kessel has scored only three power-play goals and has a plus-minus rating of minus-22. His production in four games versus Boston this year produced zilch.
There also has been Bruins domination against the Maple Leafs since the September 2009 trade. Boston has gone 15-4-3 against Toronto since it moved Kessel north and only a few weeks ago did the Maple Leafs snap an eight-game losing streak against the Bruins.
Still, only six players have scored more goals than Kessel in the past four regular seasons.
However, his production hasn't translated into much team success in Toronto until this year.
Meanwhile, the vocal fanatics in Boston will not forget Kessel's contributions to the Bruins success. He was traded to Toronto because of his first stance on wanting a long-term deal worth more than $5-million a season.
'Thank you, Kessel'
That's why you likely hear the "Thank you, Kes-sel" chants as soon as he hits the ice at the TD Garden for the series opener on Wednesday. And if the Bruins continue their winning ways against the Maple Leafs this week, those chants will only pick up steam.
On the other hand, a first-round upset in the Maple Leafs first foray into the playoffs since 2004 would help ease the pain for Toronto fans. We don't have to remind them that the two first-round choices and second-round selection that the Maple Leafs gave up in exchange for Kessel turned out to be studs Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.
The third player, right wing Jared Knight, was slowed by a nasty hamstring injury in his first year as a pro this season. But the former London Knights forward likely will join the Bruins in the next couple of years.
So that's why all eyes will be on Kessel in this first-round series. The heat is on him to produce, something he did in his previous postseason life with the Bruins. In 15 Stanley Cup playoff games, he has scored nine goals and 15 points.
But either way, a good series or a bad series, Kessel will be in the first-round spotlight, whether he likes it or not.
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