October 15, 2013

Phil Kessel's Place In Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey History

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a long and storied hockey history. While I think it is a little premature to debate just where Phil Kessel fits into that history, that's exactly what Derek Zona of Copper 'N Blue recently weighed in on.

Using an adjusted statistical methodology Zona concludes we better give Kessel his due and that he ranks among the all time greatest Toronto Maple Leafs.

I have grown to like Phil Kessel, as I have seen marked improvement in his overall game. And let's face it - he is a hired gun specializing in goal scoring. He is a rare breed.

It is way too early to declare Kessel as one of the all time Leafs greats. Even is we allow the assumption that Kessel can keep the stats strong over the rest of his career, statistics certainly do not account for everything.

What do Syl Apps and Johnny Bower and Borje Salming and King Clancy all have, in addition to strong statistics? They all rank highly in what I consider to be the single most important determining factor in hockey greatness - legacy.

Not that that is any knock on Phil Kessel. He is working on his legacy now, and will be, presumably, for the next 8 years thanks to his new contract. Let's let him finish his resume before we even start comparing Phil Kessel to Frank Mahovlich or Dave Keon.

That being said, I have always thought there were some interesting parallels between Kessel and another great Leafs goal scorer from the past - Rick Vaive. They were both acquired in high profile trades. Both were excellent goal scorers who gave everything they had, even though flaws were apparent. And neither were appreciated by the media or the fans as much as they probably should have been. For whatever reason, Toronto never really warmed up to either Rick Vaive or Phil Kessel.

Kessel can over come Vaive's plight if he can deliver more team success in the coming years. With some additional help for the first time in Kessel's tenure, Toronto seems poised to make another step in the right direction.

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