Get cancer – Return and score 30 goals.
Get Traded in a trade that is universally panned – Become so good it’s irrelevant.
Get shoulder surgery – Return and score 6 straight (prorating the lockout and this year) 30 goal seasons; never miss another game.
Get called one-dimensional – Learn to back-check.
Get picked last at the All-Star Game by Ovechkin – Become better than Ovechkin.
Get called inconsistent – Become literally the NHL’s most consistent player.
And besides overcoming every negative thing anyone’s ever said about him in the best way possible – being awesome at hockey – Phil Kessel has now made it so that anyone who questions his heart, calls him soft, or worries about his leadership is an idiot.
Basically, the guy is a total Fonzie.
I don’t care what you value in hockey players or in the game of hockey in general, if you value anything over goal-scoring, whether it’s defense, leadership or any other intangible un-measurable feeling you can think to apply – you are wrong.
Phil Kessel is one of, if not the best in the entire world at scoring goals. For those living in a cave, scoring a goal is the hardest most rare feat that can be accomplished in a game of hockey. Scoring a goal is so rare and so difficult that we have to use proxy stats to figure out who are the best players. But you don’t need a proxy stat for Kessel – he scores at will and – as I have been wont to point out – he does it without the benefit of an elite centre (the only guy who scores more has Nicklas Backstrom feeding him the puck) and usually without his team having any secondary scoring.
Basically, the harder you work to put Kessel’s goal scoring the last five years in context, the better it becomes.
Look, I know that calling people “idiots” severely detracts from the professionalism of this article and perhaps even my credibility, but I do not care. The time for pretending that everyone’s opinion is equal is over. Phil Kessel is a top five player in the NHL and the media – as well as some of the fans who are brainwashed by said media – have under-appreciated and treated him like crap for far too long.
It is not Phil Kessel’s job to acquire the players needed to make the Leafs good. He has played at a level consistent with franchise, NHL and all-world greats. He has put together a body of work that – if it lasts even just a few more years – is good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. He is literally one of the best goal scorers in NHL history and there is nothing he could have done better over the last five years. He is already one of the best Leafs to have ever worn the sweater.
And he’s easily the coolest guy in town (as long as Bruce Springsteen isn’t playing the ACC).
But here’s the thing: we live in a world where journalists from mainstream outlets are competing with – and often losing to – amateur guys like me, Pension Plan Puppets, Leafs Hub or HockeyBuzz. We live in a world that is overloaded with information and with media outlets – take hockey, the Leafs and the city of Toronto and you have – if you’ll excuse the cliché – the perfect storm.
And in this massive competitive search for clicks, views and attention we know one thing: Negativity Sells.
So let’s not pretend Phil Kessel is an asshole, a jerk, a spoiled child or any other insult you want to use. Let’s not pretend that the Score, the Sun, TSN et. al. weren’t absolutely thrilled when a frustrated Kessel got pissy with a reporter after a rough loss. Everyone who thinks about it knows damn well that every single one of those news outlets just got triple the story and triple the views because of what he said – which is partly why the reaction pisses me off so much – it’s seethed in hypocrisy.
They question his leadership (a total joke by the way) his social skills, his professionalism,whatever, all the while they are only too happy he got pissed cause it sells more papers (and even gives me something to write about).
But the worst part is that while we simultaneously judge the guy and thank him for giving us something to talk about, we hold him up to an impossible standard. I’ll say this slow so all the morons can understand : HE…..IS…..A….HUMAN….NOT……A…….ROBOT.
That’s right, given his abilities and consistency, it is tempting to think he might be some kind of cybortronic-hockey-robot combination of the Terminator and the Fonze, but he’s not. He’s a regular guy. He’s cooler than Burt Reynolds, but he’s just a guy. A sack of guts.
But you know what else? If you look back at all the things he overcame to be who he is today, it’s obvious that he has to be super-competitive. And super-competitive humans hate to lose, so if he doesn’t want to talk to a reporter after his team loses to the the worst team in hockey, you should cut the guy some slack.
Normal players have to talk to the media. Phil Kessel can do whatever he wants. He’s Phil F$#%ing Kessel and he is the coolest NHL player on the planet. Leadership? Give me a break. In real life, leadership is the ability to make smart decisions under pressure and to stand up for your convictions against dissent. In hockey – it’s just who is the coolest guy and best player, and that is Phil Kessel, all day, every day.
I’d put up the video of Randy Carlyle siding with the media and selling out his best guy, but why bother? We all know who’s leaving town first.
Instead I’ll leave you with the words of a guy we can all look up to, a guy who doesn’t need to kiss anyone’s ass and who should still be running this team anyways.
“Why should Phil Kessel have to talk to these pukes every day” – Brian Burke, on the Toronto media and the Leafs.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.