When the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations open sometime next summer, Phil Kessel should be held up as a major example of what’s wrong with the current system.
First, the former Bruins winger forced his way out of Boston although he was just a restricted free agent. If you refuse to negotiate with your rights-holding team and value yourself beyond that club’s budget, you’re as good as unrestricted.
And now, some 18 months into his ridiculous five-year, $27 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kessel is disgruntled there.
The speedy winger hasn’t scored in 10 games after going goal-less against Buffalo Saturday, when he was benched for a portion of the game by head coach Ron Wilson. As The Globe and Mail reports, Sunday’s practice featured Kessel dropped to a third-line role with Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce.
Then Kessel offered up some of his most “eloquent” comments of his career.
“I don’t know,” Kessel was quoted by the Toronto media. “We’ve got to change something, so I’m not sure if that’s it, but maybe. I don’t know.
“I don’t really know what to say about [the scoring slump] any more. I’m trying. Obviously it’s not going right. Like I said, might not be working out here. What are you going to do?”
Kessel also noted that he and Wilson don’t speak much. Wilson, however, had no problem speaking about Kessel’s deficiencies to the press. See if Wilson’s quotes sound familiar.
“He’s so focused on scoring goals, he’s forgetting the other part of the game,” Wilson said. “If the puck’s not going in and that’s all your focus, a lot of times you’ll end up not being in the positions you should be in and that goes for any player.
“So we just want to see a little bit more balance. If you’re struggling to score, don’t be scored against because it puts a lot of pressure on the other lines to make up the difference.”
You should know that Kessel, who has scored just 19 goals in 52 games, is minus-22 on the season. Luckily for Wilson, the Leafs won’t have to worry about Kessel sticking to a one-dimensional game in the postseason because the Leafs might be years from participating in the playoffs in the Kessel Era. That was the predicament Bruins head coach Claude Julien found his team in back in ’08 against Montreal, when the bench boss decided to plant Kessel in the press box for two games. Kessel, at the time a second-year 20-year-old, responded when re-inserted into the lineup. But now he’s a 23-year-old multimillionaire and should be above having to be called out or demoted to get his act together.
When Kessel spent the entire summer of ’09 without a new contract, comparisons were often drawn between him and center David Krejci, another Boston young up-and-comer who had already re-signed for three years at $3.75 million per season. Krejci’s camp and the Bruins negotiated a deal that both sides found fair, even if at that point in his career Krejci was suddenly a little over-paid. Boston was willing to commit to Krejci not just for his playmaking and vision, but his character. He might blame his sticks for his failures now and then, but for the most part Krejci holds himself to a high standard and is almost too hard on himself. He doesn’t snipe at the coach or mope about line combinations.
If there’s a polar opposite to Krejci’s willingness to learn and drive to be better, it’s Kessel. To this day, the winger insists that playoff benching had no effect on him. He has been benched previously this season, but still doesn’t seem willing to change. And now some two weeks after his organization stood up for him in the aftermath of him being the last pick in the NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, he’s complaining about the coach not talking to him and switching up the lines.
Winning in the NHL is tough enough when a club is just dealing with injuries, inconsistent play and a difficult trade market. The last thing a team needs is an unproductive, over-priced, whiny headache. Whether you’re accepting of the fact that players can now cash in as they do with their second contracts or would like to see a slotted system based on experience dictate contracts in the next CBA, you now even clearer why Boston — under the current labor deal — wasn’t willing to break the bank without negotiation to build its team around Phil Kessel.