Goodbye, Phil

So. The day many of us feared was coming has finally arrived: Phil Kessel is now no longer a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I can’t say I’m surprised by the news, but I am disappointed.

I’m disappointed that the Leafs traded for a superstar and proceeded to fail spectacularly for 6 years in their attempt to build a successful team around him.

I’m disappointed that, even though he’s been among the league’s leading scorers over the past few seasons, it’s all been naught because the Leafs only made the playoffs once.

I’m disappointed that most of his time on the team was spent playing with a boat anchor named Tyler Bozak, whom the Leafs deluded themselves into thinking was a legitimate number-one centre.

I’m disappointed that the Toronto sports media used any opportunity they could to undermine him and assassinate his character.

I’m disappointed that many fans seemed to blame him–and him alone–for most of the team’s problems.

I’m disappointed that the Toronto Maple Leafs wasted his prime.

Finally, as if all that disappointment wasn’t enough, I’m disappointed at the lacklustre return they received in exchange for one of their best players in franchise history.

Phil Kessel was a victim of poor timing. He joined the team too late to play with Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, or Darryl Sittler, and too early to play with whichever star player(s) come(s) next. By all rights, he should go down as one of the all-time greats in franchise history, but he probably won’t–and all because he had the misfortune of playing for them at a point where they absolutely sucked. The last number of years have been a disaster for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they’re something I’m sure that many people (myself included) would like to forget. 

It’s not Kessel’s fault that he happened to join a godawful team and lacked the ability to singlehandedly drag them into the playoffs. It’s not his fault the Leafs chose to sign Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson, and Stéphane Robidas to awful contracts and continually failed to develop enough good prospects during his time with the team. It’s not his fault that the Leafs were in a position of having to depend on him so heavily that any cold streak he had would inevitably cause the team to plummet in the standings. It’s not his fault that the Leafs were never able to sufficiently compensate for the defensive shortcomings in his game because the whole team was a defensive trainwreck, or that the Leafs never found a real number-one centre for him to play with (or, rather, never bothered to pair him for very long with Nazem Kadri, the closest thing to a number-one centre in the organization). In short, it’s not his fault that the franchise pinned all of its hopes on him and failed year after year to bring in a competent supporting cast.

So, goodbye, Phil. I hope that the Penguins actually puts you in a position to succeed. I hope that the media and fans in Pittsburgh treat you with a modicum of goddamn respect. And I hope that, one day, a banner with your name and number gets raised to rafters of the Air Canada Centre as an honoured member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

You deserve better. Thanks for all the goals.