Phil Kessel (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
The talented right winger has historically been shy in front of the media, but this season has seen him step up on several occasions. In standing up for Dion Phaneuf, Kessel has shown leadership.
By nature, Phil Kessel has traditionally been a bit of an introvert when it comes to the media. The talented Toronto Maple Leafs star has often displayed a stereotypical Midwest humbleness in front of the cameras and that's cool: Not every hockey player can be as polished and poised as David Backes or Steven Stamkos.
But Kessel has had enough apparently, launching into a diatribe about the Toronto media and how reporters and pundits have treated his captain, Dion Phaneuf. It was quite the scene.
Though the emotion in his speech was surprising, Kessel has been coming out of his shell more this season. He had already harpooned one hapless scribe in Hogtown, but he also later showed off the breezier side of his personality at the All-Star Game in Columbus. Kessel held court on media day, but was also one of the players selectively brought out after the draft – undoubtedly since he was traded from Team Toews to Team Foligno for Tyler Seguin – and he had fun with that, too.
With the Maple Leafs flailing since Christmas, obviously the heat lamps have been on high for the team and clearly Kessel had enough.
And you know what? It's a good look for him. He's not contractually obligated to parry with the press on the merits of his teammates, but Kessel felt the need to stick up for Phaneuf and I'm sure the captain appreciated the back-up.
After all, a lot of trade deadline talk yesterday focused on the notion that the Leafs had to get rid of Phaneuf and his contract by any means necessary. Sure, Phaneuf isn't having a good season, but it's pretty widely accepted that on a structurally sound team, he would be a great second-pairing guy who could help on the power play.
That's not the case in Toronto, where he is currently the undisputed No. 1. The team is floundering and the finger-pointing isn't hard to miss.
Clearly this season has been a trial on fire (not a typo) for the Leafs and with the deadline over, both Kessel and Phaneuf are still wearing the Blue and White. I'm of the opinion that even with a proper rebuild, there's no reason to trade Kessel, since guys who can score as well as him are a rarity at the elite level – he just needs more help around him.
Given that, Kessel will be in Toronto a long time. He already seems to be hardening around the press instead of taking refuge behind closed doors and though that may make my job more difficult, I like his new-found public passion.
Even though he doesn't wear a letter on his jersey, Kessel showed some true leadership here.