It’s no secret that I’m not a big Phil Kessel fan. I think he’s lazy. He waits for the play to come to him rather than the other way around. And he’s unbelievably predictable when it comes to shooting after he skates with the puck (as opposed to a one-timer). But maybe I’m wrong about old Phil.

On Saturday night, during the Leafs’ game v. Washington, a few folks on Twitter again began pointing out Kessel’s numerous perceived faults. Of course, I chimed in with my big mouth. But several in the Twitter universe suggested patience with Kessel is the best tack. It got me to thinking, “Just how long do we have to be patient with big Phil?”

My standard reference is that, if after three full NHL seasons, a guy hasn’t shown you what he’s got – he’s never going to. There are exceptions, of course. But that’s my general rule-of-thumb. But who are the exceptions? Does Kessel still have a chance to be a breakout superstar in this league?

Cam Neely came to mind. He played three, fewer-than-forty-points seasons in Vancouver, then GM Jack Gordon gave up on him and sent him to Boston. A Hall-of-Fame career awaited Neely. The other names brought forward on Twitter by @leafschatter were Charlie Simmer and Reggie Leach.

Reggie Leach bumped along in Boston and California for four seasons before being sent to the Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. He helped the Flyers win a second consecutive Cup and had two 50-or-more goal seasons in Philly.

Simmer did absolutely nothing in five up-and-down seasons with the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons and then one year in Los Angeles. That was until he was paired with Dave Taylor and Marcel Dionne, forming what is likely the best scoring line in NHL history – The Triple Crown Line. Simmer had consecutive 56-goal and 100+-point seasons.

But, to me, the best example of a player exploding further along into his career is Phil Esposito. In three-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, Espo never scored more than 30 goals. Then he was sent to Boston. KABOOOM! Two seasons later he set an all-time record with 126 points. Then 76 goals. All this from a guy who really did nothing until he was 26 years old.

And this tells me maybe, just maybe, our patience with Phil Kessel should continue. But this is Kessel’s fifth full NHL season. He’s had one year when he’s scored as many as 60 points. He should be a 50-goal scorer, right? No sane GM would trade two first-round picks for someone who wasn’t, would they? No, they wouldn’t.

He’s 23 years old. Young. He’s in his 5th season. Old. If we agree that Kessel must wait for talented linemates to explode, that’s fine. But exactly how long are we supposed to wait before realizing that, indeed, Phil Kessel is nothing more than a 30-goal guy who’s forever going to go down as the stiff who was dealt for two firsts?

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  • SkinnyFish

    Phil Kessel is fine at what he does. He’s a decent hockey player. The problem is that T.O. has been trying to build their offense around this guy. He’s not a franchise player, you can’t build a team around him. You use him as a supporting cast member with a real franchise guy up front and Leaf fans would be much happier with him.

  • But, when you cough up two first rounders for a guy, does he not HAVE to be a franchise guy? Especially in the cap age?

    I just don’t see Leafs’ fans being content with accepting Phil’s current level of play and looking toward the future and a bigger name.

  • I’m hoping Burke wakes the f%ck up and ships Kessel to LA for Schenn and Simmonds. They need a flashy scorer,and he’s American, which helps the marketing. We need a young top 6 power forward to join Kulemin thus having one on each of the top 2 lines. A tough 2 way and high skilled 1st line centre which is what we can project Schenn to be. Especially after his Worlds JR. A Brian Trottier type for those old enough to remember.

    Now, I realize that Burke will have to trade one of his over rated and too prevalent American types, but he’s gonna have to deal with it. Else he can head out the door right behind Wilson, when the time comes.

    One Hunter brother coaches the London Knights, the other is the GM. They own the team with another partner. That team contends every year. They have sent a boatload of high end players to the NHL. The Hunters are savvy enough to hire guys to run their junior team, while they go about cutting out the current BS thrown around by Burke and Wilson, and making the Leafs a perennial contender.

    • Wow, that’s a massive amount of opinion to ingest! I like your Kessel/Schenn/Simmonds concept. I truly do not think Kessel will ever succeed here. I have turned the page on him.

      Gotta say, though, the only reason Bryan Trottier was Bryan Trottier was because of Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies and Bob Nystrom and John Tonelli and Denis Potvin and…you see where I’m goin’. Honestly, I think guys like Trots are one in a million. But a very good one, mind you.

      I think, in the heat of a game, Dale Hunter can be a good coach. And the Hunter brothers have, indeed, done a good job in London. Not great…good. My conversations with Dale never leave me with a good taste in my mouth. MASSIVE amounts of ego…then again, so does Brian Burke.

      I’m prepared to give Burke a substantially longer time to work his magic in Toronto before I hit the gong.

    • Seriously....Gord?

      Schenn is not projected to be a number 1 C. He is generally projected to be a very good two way number 2 center. If you want a player to compare him to think Kesler if he reaches his potential. If you want a good review of him go to hockey’s future (http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/brayden_schenn). Don’t make the oldest mistake in the book and overrate a player based on his play in a 7 game tournament (the world juniors)…

      Also if you look at his play since being drafted he has NOT done any better than Kadri. (did you like Schenn’s 2 A in 8 games played this year?) So keep that in mind when you think of what he’ll become. It could take a long time to develop. If him and Kadri both break into the league next year you have to be happy with 20 goals 50 points.

      Similarly Simmonds has had 9 Goals, 23 points, 16 goals, 40 points, and is now on pace for 15 goals 28 points. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he progresses some (even though this year was regression). We’ll say 18 goals 45 points for next year.

      A “top” line of 58 goals is terrible. (and remember thats assuming they all played well). Realistically 15 goals for all 3 would be likely in a full season. A 45 goal top 6 line (forget first line) is laughable.

  • Next year I go with

    Kadri Schenn Simmonds

    MacArthur Grabowsky Kulemin

    Versteef Bozak Armstrong

    Now, the Schenn line is unlikely to get the most minutes. It will start as the number 3 line. Grabbo’s is already #1 line. Bozak’s line can be the #2.
    I sure like this talent level.

    • You have clearly thought about this a lot!

      There’s very little experience in your Kadri/Schenn/Simmonds line…but I love the passion and thought you’ve put into it.

      Either way, the Leafs without Kessel is not a terrible prospect. And, to be honest, goaltending is a MAJOR concern on my notepad.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    Problem for 2 first rounders….you’ll never trade him for a player actually worth 2 first rounders.

    I agree he’s a supporting cast member, and a good one at that, however, T.O. is stuck with him. Burke would look like a fool trading for anything less than a star…and to get a star…he’d need to overpay…again.

  • CoryNewb

    Leafs Nation are stuck with him, at least a while longer. Burke is too bull-headed to admit he made a massive mistake trading 2 first rounders, so this beat will go on and on as he tries to assemble more of a first line to compliment him.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    I think age is the key element here. Kessel is 23, that’s about the age Lafleur took off. And you also have to factor in that Kessel isn’t playing with Pete Mahovlich or Steve Shutt.

    Kessel is a frustrating player, but his exceptional skill happens to be the most difficult one.

    The Leafs could get a lot for him in trade, and I think that’s they key. Has he damaged his value while in Toronto?

    I don’t think so. Scoring goals is gold.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    Leafs Nation needs to be patient with Kessel. He is one of the few top six forwards on the team and getting sour on him now will only lead to him being traded/leaving town for less than what he brings to the team. In his best season, Kessel was one of only 15 players to score 35 goals or more. This was with a very talented roster in Boston. If the Leafs can add some more top-six forwards, Kessel will be an important part of a resurgent Leafs team. If he is run out of town, that’s one more top-six forward the Leafs have to find and top-six forwards are not exactly growing on trees in southern Ontario these days.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    Steve, I think you need to understand the true value of first round picks. You like many other seem to overvalue them. Give Cullen’s article here a read which really does give a pretty well thought out and researched look on them (http://www.tsn.ca/columnists/scott_cullen/?id=267960). What you’ll see is that only 67% of first round picks go on to play 100 NHL games. Further the average player has a ranking of 4.94 according to the scale I include at the end of this comment. So that makes this average player from the first round between a fringe NHLer and regular NHLer. Now you may argue well look how terrible the leafs have been we gave up two lottery picks (top 5).

    In that situation the player has a 97% of playing 100 NHL games, BUT they still are only a 6.84 (between a top 6 and top 9). You could also argue that in the cap world its important to get the guys young and through drafting for salary efficiency. Thats true but it still doesn’t increase the potential or skill of first rounders. Every time we hear first rounder we think we traded away Ovechkin and Crosby, or if not that we traded away Spezza and Carter. When we should be thinking of guys like Cam Barker and David Legwand.

    In regards to Kessel specifically he has been in the top 30 goal the last 3 seasons (including this one) (2010/2011 (tied for 22nd), 2009/2010 (tied for 21st), 2008/2009 (tied for 12th)). With 30 teams in the league that would make him the best goal scorer on multiple teams. He did this at 21, 22, and 23 (very young), and (besides in 08/09) he did it without much help. I think the problem with Kessel is that you want him to be something he isn’t. He is a great goal scorer (remember 30-35 goals is gonna get you in the top 20-25 in the league) and if he got some help could probably be a 40 goal scorer (top 5-10 in the league.

    So all of the preceeding is more researched and statistics. The following will be based on what I SEE.

    People complain about Kessel being a lazy floater and I don’t think thats accurate. What they are seeing is that he isn’t physical. He doesn’t go for hits and won’t hit in the corner. That being said when he is trying he plays hard. He back checks well is always in on the play and goes hard for the puck. He goes into the corner and fights for the puck he just doesn’t do it all that physically. My problem is that he doesn’t do this every game. He seems to have a finicky confidence and when he gets frustrated he tries to just go for the breakout pass… But honestly I find that he loses his minutes when he does this..

    10 – Generational (Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin )
    9 – Elite Player (Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley )
    8 – First Line, Top Pair D (Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf )
    7 – Top Six Forward, Top Four D (Daymond Langkow, Chris Phillips )
    6 – Top Nine Forward, Top Six D (Daniel Cleary, David Legwand )
    5 – NHL Regular (Michael Rupp, Boyd Devereaux )
    4 – Fringe NHLer (Kris Beech, Krystofer Kolanos )
    3 – Very Good Minor Leaguer (Pavel Brendl, Jeff Heerema )
    2 – Minor Leaguer, maybe gets a shot in NHL (Chris Hajt, Daniel Tkaczuk )
    1 – No NHL games (Matt Zultek, Luca Cereda )