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We’ve all flipped out before. More often than not it’s the result of multiple things piling up: a bad few days at work, an argument with a girlfriend, car problems, bad weather, and/or a bad loss by your favorite. Then, some minor annoyance occurs. Maybe you can’t find your remote, or the Internet is a little slow. And what happens? You simply lose it. What should be an insignificant event triggers the collective powder keg of crappy occurrences, and like when Bruce Banner changes into the Incredible Hulk, you’re an uncontrollable storm of rage, tearing your clothes and grinding your teeth.
That’s kind of what it’s like to be a Bruins fan lately. After such a promising season last year, we shipped off our leading scorer. We lost two of our best players to injury. Now our offense is stagnant, as the power play has gone 1 for 22 since Marc Savard went down, and the team doesn’t seem to have any passion without the fiery Milan Lucic patrolling the ice. Our Vezina award-winning goalie Tim Thomas is letting in half a goal a game more than he did all of last year (2.10 GAA in 08-09 vs. 2.66 GAA this season). The Bruins team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference a season ago is now muddled in the bottom half of the standings at 6-7-1.
Then, Tuesday night happens. Not only do the Bruins get shut out for the second time in as many games (in a 2-0 loss to the Red Wings), Phil Kessel looks sharp in his debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs, putting up a career high 10 shots and creating dozens of offensive opportunities in his new team’s overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But before you let Tuesday night’s events be your catalyst to destroying your clothes and potentially breaking several decency laws, consider this. Phil Kessel is not the cause of the Bruins problems.
Yes, it’s easy for us to remember the highlight goals and electric moves Kessel performed in a Bruins jersey, because those are what show up on YouTube, NESN or ESPN (in the rare occurrence the Worldwide Leader in Sports does decide to recognize the existence of the NHL). When we look at those highlights or the wins the Bruins have amassed over the past few years, they may make us miss the dynamic player most of us remember, but they also make us forget Kessel’s indiscretions on the ice as well.
We forget the times he lazily chased a puck into the corner. We forget the bad passes. We forget the lack of hustle. We forget that Kessel is second only to Charlie Brown when it comes to falling dazed onto his back. The only difference being that Charlie Brown thought Lucy wouldn’t pull the football away, while Phil Kessel thought an NHL defenseman wouldn’t hit a skater blindly entering the zone, which Tampa’s Mattias Ohlund proved isn’t the case as he knocked Kessel off his skates and onto the ice during the first period of his first game with the Maple Leafs.
The point is, for every time Kessel amazed us with his pure hockey talent, he made us scratch our head in bewilderment of his half-assed effort. It’s been that way his whole career. He was the most touted prospect in the game when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota. But, at the end of his freshman (and only) season, he was relegated to the third-line, all while earning a reputation for soft play and alienating his teammates, a reputation I think he did little to change during his time on Causeway Street.
Don’t let the loss of Kessel be your breaking point, especially considering the B’s got the Leafs’ first and second round draft picks in 2010 and their first round pick in 2011 for him. And because the Toronto can be generously categorized as awful, those picks are likely to be high in the draft order. Plus, by not re-signing Kessel, the Bruins are saving $5 million plus in cap space each year (an important thing to note as salary cap adjustments are likely after the current CBA expires after the 2010-11 season).
If anyone should be worried about compounding troubles, it should be Kessel, not Bruins fans. Without Savard to dish him the puck, he won’t score as much (Savard assisted in 22 of Kessel’s 36 goals last season). Without talent to back him up, he won’t win. When losses and scoreless nights start to pile up, and trust me they will, they won’t be buried on the back of the sports section or ignored on talk radio or blogs. Toronto isn’t Boston. There, hockey reigns supreme and doesn’t play a second fiddle to the Raptors or Blue Jays. Phil Kessel will soon realize that, and it will cause the childishness and selfish play he was able to suppress for the most part here in Boston to come erupting to the surface.