Seven games into the Toronto Maple Leafs season and one of their highest paid “goal scorers”, Phil Kessel, has yet to put the puck in the back of the net.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a number of factors can come into play (long down time between seasons, shortened season, a slump), but the long and the short of it is he needs to score goals to show his worth dollar-wise. Playing in Toronto doesn’t help his case either.
When the Leafs have four wins and Kessel only has four assists a buzz starts to surround him, in a negative way of course. He even missed an empty net goal opportunity against Washington on Thursday night; he just can’t seem to find the mesh.
Scoring one goal isn’t going to be enough to get people off his back either. Even though he led the team in scoring lasts year with 37 goals and 82 points, the Leafs traded a first-round draft pick in 2010 to the Boston Bruins for Kessel.
Fans and critics can’t seem to let that go. The point is that even though they ended up drafting Tyler Seguin you need to work with what you have. Had the Leafs held onto that pick and not made a trade there’s no guarantee they have the same finish in the standings. Even if they had there’s no guarantee they would’ve developed Seguin the same way (they tend to burn out players, i.e. Luke Schenn).
Kessel has put up better numbers than Seguin in the past few seasons. In 2010-11 he had eight more goals and 15 more points than Seguin in one more game and in 2009-10 he had 32 goals and 64 points compared to Seguin’s 11 goals and 22 points in eight less games than Kessel. This season both have four points in seven games, although Seguin does have a goal.
Seguin is five years younger than Kessel. It’s clear both are strong players, but there’s no guarantee Seguin will beat Kessel’s numbers, comparatively, in five years.
Fans and critics alike need to get off his back about the trade and let him focus on improving his game, not going up against someone he was traded for nearly three years ago. If you’re going to jump on him for his offensive output, leave Seguin out of the equation. Look at who he’s been playing with, their output and obviously compare year-to-year stats of his.
This season he’s been paired with James van Riemsdyk and Mikhail Grabovski on a fairly regular basis. Grabovski has three goals and five points, while van Riemsdyk has four goals and five points. This line is obviously putting the puck in the back of the net, it’s just not coming off Kessel’s stick.
It’s understandable that when a player is brought in to score goals that you expect that output, but when a line has good chemistry there needs to be a look at the bigger picture.
Christopher Cameron is the sports reporter for The News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.