February 01, 2011
When Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet spouted off about some grand conspiracy to embarrass Phil Kessel(notes) and the Toronto Maple Leafs and GM Brian Burke suggested the last picks should be selected out of a hat, we figured the anxiety over Mr. Irrelevant of the NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft had subsided.
But there's resentment lingering in Leafs Nation. Or maybe embarrassment. Or maybe empathy for Kessel. Whatever it is, it's manifested itself as some kind of delusion that a sweater Kessel wasn't even wearing that night prompted his being selected last in the draft.
He was last not because he's rocking Brett Ledba's plus/minus rating or because his notorious socially awkward comportment has made him a more likely candidate for Mr. Irrelevant than Mr. Popularity. No, he was last because he was a Toronto Maple Leaf. Of course.
Jan Murphy from the Kingston Whig Standard wrote that "I'm a Leafs fan, so clearly I was hurt by this," before bashing the All-Star Draft for insulting a cancer survivor.
Stories about the Draft were littered with comments like this from the Star:
"This was a shot at The Toronto Maple Leafs, pure and simple. Perfect example of how reviled they are around the league, as an entity."
Some context: The Draft is in Raleigh, and the fans there have a chip the size of North Carolina on their collective shoulder about the Canadian media claiming the Carolina Hurricanes don't play in a "hockey market" that dates back to their Finals' appearances. It was for a cheap pop from the crowd, had more to do with the media than the Buds.
Did Kessel's Leafs affiliation have anything to do with his being selected last? Sure it did, but wasn't the overwhelming influence that it's been credited with being. Any time you can stick it to ‘the man', you're going to do it, and the Leafs fit that model.
Of course not. Murphy's completely correct in calling the Draft disappointing in the sense that it was more about teammates, current and former; training buddies; old friends; and siblings than it was about the best player available. Versteeg would have been added to the Blackhawks on Team Lidstrom or to Patrick Sharp(notes) and Joel Quenneville on Team Staal before the final pick.
And had Tomas Kaberle(notes) been the All-Star from the Leafs, there's not even a discussion. Not only was it mandated defenseman go before the final six picks, but he would have been gone before some other D-men in the draw.
So the essential question is: Was Phil Kessel allowed to linger to the end because he's a Toronto Maple Leaf or because he's Phil Kessel? Considering he's a Leaf because of the decisions he made to end his tenure with the Boston Bruins, the personal so outweighs the professional here. He's Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in the end it's Phil Kessel to whom they're givin' the gears.