TORONTO ON - NOVEMBER 06: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs is stopped in overtime by Tyler Myers #57 and Johan Hecht #55 of the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre on November 6 2010 in Toronto Canada. The Sabres defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
There's a lot of focus on Phil Kessel's shooting percentage, but as I said, I think that's garbage. Some very real issues with Kessel though:
1) His contract is absolutely awful. The Leafs bought out three of his RFA years and two UFA years. Let's say that trade-and-signs result in a 30% RFA discount - then Brian Burke valued Kessel at $6.6M per season. This isn't a substantially different valuation than, say, Ryan Kesler, who's a two-way center who can play against the best opposition in the Western Conference. There's just no justification for a contract like that.
2) There's this notion that Phil Kessel is 'soft.' It's no secret that he's not a physical player - he hits someone once every 10 games or so. And the Leafs must have scouted him extensively - they knew what player they wanted and they knew what player they were getting.
3) (or 2a, really) Kessel is getting attacked for his defense. Well, what did you expect when you signed a guy with shooting talent who typically starts in the offensive zone and gets soft opposition? It has been a few years, but the story with David Ortiz was that Minnesota released him because they focused on what he couldn't do; the Red Sox focused on what he could do and were successful as a result. Want Milan Lucic? Sign Milan Lucic. (Boston probably wishes they hadn't.)
I have to admit that I don't get the Leafs. (One of my best friends is a Leafs fan - his phone extension was 8817 - Lindros/Clark - and he's always reminiscing about Mike Palmateer.) They play an odd strategy (keep attacking even when they're leading.) They make strange personnel decisions (bench Kessel and Komisarek, but ride Toskala until he destroys the season.) In terms of their psychological handling of their players, they kind of remind me of that Geico commercial about how drill sergeants make bad therapists. In that context, you end up ripping your best players, regardless of how they've actually performed.