Kessel, Wilson clear up player's comments

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel faced the music on Monday, clarifying to the media horde some critical comments he made the previous day about his team and his coach, Ron Wilson.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel faced the music on Monday, clarifying to the media horde some critical comments he made the previous day.

Kessel reacted Sunday to being demoted to the third line in the midst of a 10-game drought, saying: "It might not be working out here."

The 23-year-old said Monday ahead of the team's home game later in the night against Atlanta that by "here," he was referring to his line, not the team or the city. The American-born Kessel reaffirmed his love for the Leafs and Toronto.

"I love Toronto, I want to be here," Kessel said. "I love the city, I love the fans, I love the team. The guys are great here. I don't want any trade or anything like that.

"I want to be here for a very long time."

Kessel said he understood that media scrutiny comes with the territory of playing for the Leafs, but later while departing the scrum was heard to complain that his comments were taken out of context.

He also modified his Sunday statement on his relationship with Ron Wilson, saying this time that they don't speak "often" — as opposed to not at all — and that there's "no problem" between coach and player, who were also thrown together last year at the Vancouver Olympics.

Wilson echoed that sentiment, confirming the two met Monday morning.

"With Phil it's been common that he goes through in his career these little ruts, where he doesn't score for 10 games, [but] there's other things you can help the team do," Wilson said. "So that's what we talked about today."

Kessel has 19 goals and 15 assists in 52 games with a minus-22 rating.

Wilson predicted that at the end of the season Kessel would be at the 30-plus goal standard he established in the previous two seasons.

But he did hint that the player has been selfish at times.

"Everyone in a team has to play without the puck and by doing that, you end up with more scoring chances yourself," Wilson said.

Kessel has been practising with Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce. Wilson is evidently hoping the other two, who've yet to establish themselves as full-time NHLers, will provide the hunger to spark some goals.

The coach said it was a shakeup to establish offence, nothing more.

"[Kessel] plays more minutes than any one of our forwards," Wilson said. "We're not singling him out or anything like that."

During the first intermission of Monday night's game against the Thrashers, Toronto general manager Brian Burke addressed the forward's comments, and confirmed his support.

"I think the reason that Phil hasn't put up the numbers can't just be put on his back," said Burke. "I think it's a failure of team personnel. No, I'm not disappointed in Phil."

Burke gave up first- and second-round NHL picks in 2010, and a first-rounder in the upcoming June entry draft, to acquire Kessel from Boston 18 months ago.

The Leafs proceeded to plummet in 2009-10, ultimately earning the Bruins the No. 2 pick, which they used for Tyler Seguin.

Kessel has enjoyed decent success against the Thrashers in his career, with six goals and 10 assists in 18 games.

Tyler Bozak, the player who has failed to establish a lot of chemistry with Kessel this season, defended his teammate.

"Everyone in here knows he's happy to be here, and we're happy to have him, and we want him here as long as we can, and we all get along with him."

Bozak added that the Leafs playfully tease Kessel about his often uneasy relationship with reporters.

Added Kris Versteeg: "If he's not happy with his play, I don't know why he can't say it."

Boyce, sporting the evidence of having his nose rearranged, joked that he wasn't sure he was the type of offensive force to help Kessel out of his slump but said his hard work could help.

"I'm just going to try and stay low in my zone and try to backcheck hard," Boyce said. "Hopefully, that can help us out a little bit and just feed him the puck as quick as I can."

Wilson gave Boyce a vote of confidence, saying he's had the best plus-minus for Toronto in his 17 games on a minutes-played basis.

With files from The Canadian Press