Kukla's Korner Hockey

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Simmons: Don't provoke an angry Kessel

02/15/2015 at 12:36am EST

The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons suggests that the ever-prickly Phil Kessel's being handled the wrong way by new Leafs coach Peter Horachek:

Randy Carlyle came to understand the remarkable but flawed oddity that is Phil Kessel. He didn’t coach him much. He didn’t speak to him all that often. Mostly, realizing what he was up against, having a petulant child as his most talented and most protected player, he left him alone.

Since the firing, the more attention that has been put on Kessel, by Brendan Shanahan, by Peter Horachek, by Steve Spott, by the media, the more he has retreated, the less he has produced. Kessel’s collapse in the final 22 games post-Olympics a year ago was supposed to be monumental. The Leafs won just six games. Kessel managed just six goals in that time.

But heading into Montreal on Saturday night, Kessel’s retreat has been unlike any other before it. The Leafs have won just two games for Horachek. Kessel has only six points, three of them goals, in the 16 past games. The collapse a year ago he scored at .68 per game. The collapse now: .38 per game — a 31-point pace.

By salary cap numbers, Kessel is the eighth-highest paid forward in the NHL and next season he will rank 10th. For a scorer who is usually in the top 10, that is paying market value for Kessel. And by my count, he would be the top offensive player on 21-of-30 NHL teams. That won’t necessarily make him easy to trade if the Leafs go that route. But one thing seems clear: The way to get the most out of Kessel is to put the least amount of pressure on him. He reacts like a spoiled kid when prodded, hanging on the periphery, rarely pushing his way through.

Simmons continues with the usual amount of Sunday notes...

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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