The Kessel conundrum

The deal to acquire Phil Kessel may turn out to be an embarrassment for the Leafs. (Sun Media/Jack...

The deal to acquire Phil Kessel may turn out to be an embarrassment for the Leafs. (Sun Media/Jack Boland)

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

With each passing disaster, the pressure on Phil Kessel grows.

Sadly, he has yet to play his first game for the Maple Leafs, but by the time he does in mid-November, his acquisition by Brian Burke could well become the central point of conversation in this season going nowhere.

In a move calculated by the bold and loud general manager, who believed this Leafs team to be something it has yet to show, Burke parted with first-round draft picks for 2010 and 2011 in the deal for the speedy Kessel. The deal can be defended if the draft picks are nowhere near a lottery selection. But six games into this nightmare of a season, that's a big if, with no real signs that anything is about to change with the Leafs, with the coach and his players appearing equally inept and the Leafs looking every bit the part of the NHL's worst team.

It isn't out of the realm of possibility that Burke has traded away one of the early picks in June's entry draft. And it's one thing to trade away a first-round pick, it's another when that pick could be converted into Taylor Hall or someone of that ability.

And the more the Leafs lose, the more focus there will be on Kessel to make certain the deal is not the embarrassment that it's starting to look to be.

Yes, the draft watch already has begun in earnest, and yes, with 76 games still to play, with almost everything about this Leafs team looking wrong, there is little even an optimist can believe after a promising pre-season.

This team can't score, can't defend, can't kill penalties, can't stop pucks, and can't pick first in the draft.

The Leafs rarely win a battle for a loose puck, in front of their own net or in front of the opposition goal, but at least they win fights. They don't win anything else, like games -- Toronto has yet to score the first goal in any game this season -- but they do win fights.

And if anything was troubling about last night's loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the 28th-place team in the NHL a year ago, a club that finished 12 points behind Ron Wilson's hard-working Leafs, it was how the Leafs showed next to no signs about being a desperate hockey team. You could read that in Burke's body language as he walked around the press box. Unlike his players, he looked like he was going to implode. You could hear it in Wilson's answers in the early morning news conference, where he even lost his normal combative ways.

Everybody is looking for something here and finding nothing. This on a night when three healthy veterans -- Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jeff Finger -- were scratched. That's supposed to provide inspiration for the rest of the team. It didn't. Starting Don Cherry's boy, Joey MacDonald in goal, was supposed to inspire. It didn't and he didn't. Calling up Tyler Bozak, the rookie, didn't change much of anything either.

It is looking that troubling, that challenging for this Leafs team with 10 new players in the lineup of 20 last night: But this team looking nowhere near as efficient as Wilson's first-year team in Toronto.

That team had a bit of swagger. This team plays nervous and weak and mentally frail, everything Burke promised it wouldn't be. The new defencemen, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, NHL veterans both, look jumpy. The second-year Leaf, Luke Schenn, looks as though he could use a night or two in the press box.

Last night, Ian White was probably the Leafs' best defenceman and best goaltender, neither of which is a good thing.

And the truth: Burke didn't envision any of this, and neither did anyone else. This wasn't supposed to be a Stanley Cup season, but this was supposed to be a better team.

Which brings us back to Phil Kessel, coming off shoulder surgery, the unfortunate soul who may turn out to be a great miscalculation before he plays his first game in Toronto.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA

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TORTURE TIMELINE

The Leafs went into last night's game with an 0-4-1 record. The worst 10-game starts in franchise history:

1985-86 1-9-0

*1990-91 1-8-1

*1945-46 1-8-1

*1991-92 2-8-0

*1926-27 2-7-1

*1925-26 2-7-1

1976-77 2-5-3

1970-71 3-7-0

1958-59 3-7-0

*1918-19 3-7-0

* missed playoffs


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