Phil Kessel, seen skating off after a loss to the Ottawa Senators earlier this season, came under fire for critical remarks he made about his team and coach Ron Wilson on Sunday. He clarified his comments on Monday saying they were taken out of context. (Abelimages/Getty Images)
What is more likely: Phil Kessel telling the truth while he's frustrated and annoyed, or Phil Kessel telling the truth after some Clockwork Orange-style mind control from Brian Burke and the player's agents?
Yeah, I'm going with door number one.
It really doesn't matter if Kessel dislikes Ron Wilson. And, it really doesn't matter if they don't speak, providing Tim Hunter or Keith Acton or Rob Zettler is communicating with him. There are plenty of successful coach/player combinations that involve very little love.
What does matter? This: the same afternoon Kessel lobbed his grenade, Jim Hughson asked Devils coach Jacques Lemaire about Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik. Lemaire said the two talented Europeans presented similar challenges in trying to turn them into complete players. "They want to learn," he added, "but sometimes they forget everything they must do." As a result, you cannot count on them at certain critical moments in a game.
Lemaire could have been talking about Kessel. For all his skill, he lacks the complete game. Wilson may not be Mr. Popularity, but you can't blame him for being annoyed at Kessel's on-ice performance.
Why aren't things working out? There are a lot of reasons in Toronto, but the winger must eat a healthy slice of the blame. He wanted to be a Maple Leaf, but is no more a force now than when he arrived. He's 23 years old and unhappy in his second organization. You reach a point where it's not someone else's fault.
Imagine Burke's reaction when he heard everything. I'm thinking property damage, followed by some Crown Royal and a "Serenity Now!" or two. Obviously, the GM is tied to Kessel, but, Burke's been unwavering in his support. Meanwhile, Kessel's well aware that the GM is stubbornly supporting the beleaguered head coach, just as much as the GM is stubbornly supporting him. The last thing Burke needed was this five-alarm headache.
It's OK to dislike your coach, but Kessel should've thought about his GM.
1. After watching Marc Savard yesterday, I couldn't help but think: Is anyone else concerned we won't see Sidney Crosby on-ice this season? I STRESS no one is telling me that. But, as reports indicate no return before March, you've really got to wonder. Hopefully, I'm completely wrong and Crosby comes back healthy.
2. In preparing for last week's blog about Sabres' scouting, I was glad to see Eric Weismann's name still on their list of amateur sleuths. Three years ago, I met him after doing a story on Buffalo's move to video. Recently out of school, he introduced himself and launched into a passionate defence of the Sabres' system. I hope it's working well for you, Eric. The Sabres are very lucky to have such a dedicated, young employee.
3. Great days to be a reporter in the QMJHL's East Division. Chicoutimi is reportedly to hire Guy Carbonneau as coach, meaning two more games against Quebec and Patrick Roy. While the two have been close for a long time, their relationship is strained right now. Carbonneau went on RDS recently and said Patrick's son, Frederick, should receive a lengthy suspension for a dirty hit. (He got three games.) Needless to say, Roy, who thought the hit was shoulder to shoulder, wasn't amused.
4. No one was happier about Henrik Sedin's Hart Trophy victory than brother Daniel. I would wager, however, that part of the motivation for Daniel's spectacular season is Henrik owning that hardware. They are fiercely competitive with each other (in a good way) and Daniel undoubtedly doesn't like Henrik having one up on him.
5. The injuries to Alex Edler and Evgeni Malkin are proof that GMs should never make a cap-related trade until the absolute last-second. How much talk was there about making room for Sami Salo or not having enough space for Malkin/Crosby/Jordan Staal? Imagine what both teams would look like if they'd made a deal before they had to.
6. Two years ago, Penguins GM Ray Shero said he really valued Staal because he could play both wing and centre, and "in a cap world, versatility is so important." Pierre LeBrun wrote on ESPN.com that Shero wouldn't be scared off by a long-term contract because he could clear space in the summer. So, I wonder if Nik Antropov fits. Antropov can also play both positions, and is definitely available. He has two years left at just above $4 million US per.
7. Spent some time last week asking teams what they thought about Chris Phillips and Robyn Regehr. Both control their futures (Regehr no-move, Phillips no-trade), but organizations don't seem to see them as top-pair impact defenders. Some consider them second-pair guys, while others don't go higher than fifth or sixth on a good team. Regehr is a greater challenge, simply because he's due another $8 million.
8. If someone is willing to trade a power-play quarterback, they're going to get big value. Demand far outweighs supply. There was a lot of talk about Sheldon Souray in New York, but John Tortorella and Marc Staal pointed out the Rangers have more problems passing than shooting with the man advantage.
9. That brings us to Tomas Kaberle. The Kaberle saga is more tiring than "Why Can't Jennifer Aniston Find Love?" covers in People, but the need for his skillset means Toronto will try. Here is the concern: the defenceman's been disinterested all year, clearly feeling he won't sacrifice his body for this organization any longer. Can he turn it on mid-season?
10. Tortorella gets a lot of attention when he snaps at reporters, but deserves credit for restraint, too. After the Rangers' 2-0 loss in Montreal Saturday, he was very patient with a young reporter who came at him with three rough ones. (I'm not making fun of the reporter. I ask my share of bad questions and remember being new/eager to be part of everything.) Tortorella could have snapped, but came nowhere near it.
11. Final note from the Ranger coach. He says the team will stick with Michael Del Zotto, even though the young defenceman "looks nervous." Tortorella wants to see Del Zotto try fewer long passes, though.
12. Quote of the Week I: A reporter from Canadiens.com was preparing a Valentine's Day piece. She asked Brian Gionta if he is a romantic person. Gionta: "Am I romantic?" Travis Moen, sitting nearby: "Not to me."
13. If the Maple Leafs really want to work with Jonas Gustavsson, they should consider bringing over his Swedish goalie coach, Erik Granqvist. After last year's Olympics, when Gustavsson spent time with Granqvist, he returned to Toronto with a seven-game winning streak. He started this season reasonably well, but just doesn't look comfortable with Francois Allaire's "blocking" style. It's hurting his confidence. Maybe there's another solution.
14. Dustin Byfuglien snapped a 13-game pointless streak yesterday in Toronto. But his struggle is proof that the NHL adjusts quickly. Now that scouts/coaches have seen how he can attack from the blue-line, they are devising strategies to slow him down.
15. Great treatment of Craig Conroy by the Flames fans, teammates and organization. Well-deserved for someone who really was - after Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff - Calgary's most important player this decade. The tough thing for him now will be making honest evaluations of people he considers close friends.
16. Why the NHL will never have lengthy suspensions, Part I: The Bruins, who lost Patrice Bergeron two years ago and Savard now, complained about Daniel Paille's four-gamer. Boston's not alone on this. Everyone wants justice, until it hurts them.
17. Part II: The NHLPA fought hard for Paille during the pre-discipline conference call. Now, Paille absolutely deserves a full defence. However, under Bob Goodenow, the union cared more about the injurer than the injured. The emphasis was on power rather than player safety. Sounds like we're headed that way once again.
18. If you really watch the Paille hit on Raymond Sawada, you'll notice that Andrew Ference could have clobbered the Stars forward about two seconds earlier when Sawada was reaching for the puck outside the Boston blueline. He didn't, partially because he was the last man, but it's why I supported his decision to speak out. Fact is, if the players don't police each other, things will never change.
19. That said, anyone who watched or heard Paille's response to Ference's criticism cannot deny that he's hurt and upset. (Journalism 101: when someone stumbles through an answer, searching for words, it's because they are trying not to say what they really think.) There were some issues inside the Boston room when Ference played a major role in Paul Kelly's NHLPA removal. This could be a challenge.
20. One phrase that needs to be banned: "(Blank) was out on the ensuing power play," after an injury. Dan Bylsma used that one after Matt Cooke's attempted amputation of Alexander Ovechkin. Bylsma's hardly alone in this, but after the David Perron fiasco, we shouldn't be so quick to judge how badly people are hurt.
21. Martin Brodeur called the first half of the Devils' season "41 games of hell." He's been so successful, and is so outwardly confident, it was strange to hear him say he lost that confidence. He was, however, well aware of the criticism directed at him. "Players are sensitive to what's being said about them," he admitted, adding that it took him a few days to move past some of the things he heard/read.
22. A lot of the blame in New Jersey is being directed at John MacLean. It was classy of Lou Lamoriello not to pile on the deposed coach, saying the problem was the best players not carrying their weight.
23. When the Panthers decided not to sign Erik Gudbranson this year, the number one reason was budget. But they also hoped Gudbranson would follow the lead of Scott Timmins, a similar financial casualty last season. Instead of the AHL, where he probably belonged, Timmins went back to Windsor as an overager and had a tremendous season. He scored his first NHL goal last week, while Gudbranson's having all sorts of trouble in Kingston.
24. Quote of the Week II: One OHL scout, asked what he loves about Timmins, said, "He can grow a playoff beard in 15 minutes."
25. Interesting theory from Jacques Martin: That PK Subban's improvement came from the challenge of replacing Josh Gorges. That moved the defenceman from the third pairing to the first, "which improved his focus," according to the coach. Some guys need big challenges to bring out their best.
26. Thanks to twitterer HKYFAN14, who pointed out Subban's "Low-Five" victory celebration with Carey Price dates back to Belleville. In junior, his regular co-conspirators were Matt Beleskey and Eric Tangradi.
27. Heard some wondering about why Toronto would sign Mike Brown to a three-year deal. Back when he coached the Raptors, Brendan Malone explained the most important players on your team were your best players and your "bottom guys." He didn't mean that as an insult, just a term to describe those who don't get as much time. Malone said that if both those groups are full of good guys who buy in to what you're doing, everyone in the middle falls in line, too. If not, you're in trouble. Brown, who won't complain, is a good guy.
28. One other Ray Emery note: asked him which goalies he enjoyed watching in the NHL. He said, "Pekka Rinne. He makes it look so easy."
29. Thanks to the recall of Mats Zuccarello, the country with the second-most hits to the Rangers' website is Norway.
30. One of the hardest jobs in the NHL is team media relations. The media wants more access, organizations want less. Rarely is everyone satisfied. Washington's Nate Ewell, one of the best, is leaving the Capitals for College Hockey Inc. Coming soon: An endless supply of nauseating press releases extolling the virtues of East Lansing, Michigan.
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