Are you ready for Kessel Mania VI?
Even if you’re not, it’s still on its way.
Phil Kessel and his Toronto Maple Leafs will be at TD Garden Thursday night to really kick off not only what might become one of the league’s most resurgent rivalries, but also the potentially decade-long debate between Kessel and Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin. The two will be tied together for posterity after the Bruins used the draft pick they got from Toronto for Kessel to take Seguin last June.
Last season, the post-Kessel, pre-Seguin Bruins won four of six meetings with the Leafs. Kessel, who finished the injury-shortened season with a respectable 30 goals in 70 games, didn’t light the lamp against Bruins. In fact, Boston limited him to just one assist in the six games.
The Kessel that’ll face Boston Thursday might be a tad improved from last season. He currently boasts seven goals in eight games for a Leafs team that looks better than last year’s edition as well, with a 5-2-1 start. The impressive opening of the year for both Kessel and his team has some talking about end-of-year hardware already, including Mike Brophy’s assertion that Kessel could make a run at the Hart Trophy in addition to the Rocket Richard Trophy.
I can buy the Richard Trophy talk because that’s an award you win by just running up your stats total. The Hart could be a bit more of a stretch, starting with the the fact that the Leafs probably have to at least make the playoffs — and I don’t see them achieving that. Then there’s the matter of being the most valuable player, instead of the one with the best stats, and also being a complete player. Kessel’s value to his team will never be in doubt, but his ability to thrive in zones other than the offensive zone is still in question.
We’ll see how far Kessel has come since last spring Thursday night. No doubt Zdeno Chara will have something to say on the ice about whether “Phil the Thrill” can wow those watching against the Bruins, or if he’ll continue to struggle against his former mates. If you’re going to challenge for the Hart, you have to be able to perform your best against the best.