Phaneuf, Kessel Leafs' cornerstones?

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:05 PM ET

Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf?

Is that the future to build around or a disastrous foundation for a Maple Leafs team looking to start fresh?

The problem with Kessel and Phaneuf, if it is a problem at all, is not in their abilities or their talents. The problem is that two teams looking to contend decided they didn’t want either of those young players as part of their future.

Sometimes that can be a managerial mistake. Sometimes that can be warning for the buyer.

The decisions to rid themselves of Phaneuf and Kessel were based as much on personality, on ability to fit-in, on whether the two were more individual than team oriented, will play out as much as anything else. There was also a contractual element to both deals: Boston didn’t want to pay Kessel what he wanted; Calgary believed it was overpaying Phaneuf for what he was delivering.

Those factors aside, there is no doubting either man’s talents. They are massive. The fact that Brian Burke has been able to acquire both in a single season was an innovative piece of business. But the question remains: Can they be more than they’ve been before?

Never mind talent, are they the right people to lead the Leafs of the next generation? That has yet to be determined.

THIS AND THAT

How much must it burn Burke to see the softness of the Eastern Conference, with Montreal, Ottawa and Boston currently in playoff positions and none of those teams overly impressive in any way and the Leafs nowhere to be found? ... Why Lou Lamoriello remains the brightest general manager in hockey: He sensed the weakness of the East and wisely gambled that Ilya Kovalchuk could end up a difference maker in a Conference with only two contenders before he picked up the sniper ... If the Maple Leafs were an NFL team, they’d fire their special-teams coach. The Leafs are last in penalty killing, 29th in power play. And the real difference between the Leafs and Montreal are those special teams. Montreal is first in power play, ninth in penalty kill ... Somebody needs to re-write The Code in the NHL. It has become obsolete: If a quarterback or wide receiver can be obliterated in football without a word being spoken between teams — unless the idiot, Richie Incognito happens to be playing — why is it necessary that every hit in hockey be followed by pushing, shoving or a fight. The NFL, with far more hitting than hockey, and used to teach the art of hitting with your helmet, rid itself of hits to the head, why can’t hockey rid itself of head shots and the perfunctory and meaningless fights that follow.

HEAR AND THERE

Is there a better day in all of sports than the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament? Madness doesn’t come close to defining what happened Thursday. And honestly, I will never understand why more people in this country don’t see the pure entertainment and emotion in this ... How much money would you have lost if someone had come up to you before the season and said, “I’ll take Henrik Sedin in points, you can have Sidney Crosby.” ... Kessel isn’t likely to have the lowest point scoring total to lead a Leafs’ team in the post-expansion era. But he’ll be close. Glenn Anderson led the Leafs with 57 points in 1991-92 ... Plus-minus statistics are only meaningful in the context of their team, but this is impressive on a bad team: Carl Gunnarsson, rookie defenceman, +11 .... Shouldn’t the embarrassed Boston Bruins change their logo now and put a teddy bear on their uniform? ... Why, other than cash grab reasons, do they stage world championships in Olympic years? Like, really, who cares that the world figure skating and world hockey going on after seeing the real world championships in Vancouver last month? ... Tiger Woods may have been better off hiring Ari Gold than Ari Fleischer for career advice.

SCENE AND HEARD

Marty Schottenheimer had a 14-2 record when he was fired as coach of the San Diego Chargers in 2006. What you may not know is the nasty feud between Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith began when the GM traded quarterback Cleo Lemon to Miami, without consulting the coach. Yep, that’s the same Lemon who signed on with the Argos this week ... It was easy to disguise Hedo Turkoglu’s disdain for defence when he had Dwight Howard behind him in Orlando and Tim Duncan behind him in San Antonio ... From this is how far heavyweight boxing has fallen: The only place you could watch Wladimir Klitschko’s title defence yesterday was on klitschko.com ... A fight I’d pay to see: Klitschko vs. brother Vitali Klitschko ... Why isn’t there one super, all-destination hockey website? There are all kinds of good ones but there is a market out there for a great one ... Erik Glavic, the most refined of the Canadian quarterbacks at last weekend’s CFL Combine, is certain to sign on with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But considering the history and the short training camps, can’t believe he or new Argo Danny Brannagan will get a real shot come June. And some people will tell you the best Canadian quarterback of the three is Western’s Michael Faulds, who missed the combine due to injury.

AND ANOTHER THING

The bookies don’t think much of the Blue Jays. The over-under for Jays wins this season is 71, which in the gambling world puts them slightly ahead of the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates ... The best and worst news of spring training: Dustin McGowan’s comeback and Dustin McGowan’s setback ... The strange contradiction of the weird Ron Washington cocaine story: The Texas manager said he only tried it once. The Texas co-owner, Nolan Ryan said he was going to treat Washington like any employee “who has a problem.” Question is: If Washington is telling the truth and only tried it once, what’s the problem, other than terrible judgment? ... And interesting that the ex-Jay Michael Young stood up on behalf of Washington in the Texas clubhouse and announced he had the manager’s back and announced if you don’t support Washington “you’re not a Texas Ranger.” ... For the record, Cito Gaston and his coaching staff have been randomly tested (and can someone explain why?) and the results are kept private ... Happy Birthday to Aaron Hill (28), Adrian Peterson (25), Luis Leal (53), Al Iafrate (44) and Troy Westwood (43) ... And hey, whatever became of Giulio Caravatta?

TIME TO MOVE ON, SATHER

Let’s assume, for a moment, that with eight of their final 11 games on the road, the New York Rangers will not make the playoffs.

That would mean that a Glen Sather team would have missed the post-season for the ninth time in 19 season since winning his last Stanley Cup in Edmonton.

It would also mean that a Sather-built team will have more losses than wins for the 15th time in 19 seasons.

The Hall of Fame induction of 1997 seems a long time ago now: It’s well past best-before date for Sather and it’s time to say goodbye and hello to Mark Messier and Adam Graves.

It’s time to pass the torch.

BOSH DESERVES BREAK ON CHEER-GATE

Everything Chris Bosh does and says is micro-analyzed to the point of sometimes having no point.

When Bosh didn’t respond to a standing ovation after he scored his 10,000th point as a Raptor, some took that as a snub.

But in a season which has to be difficult for him, trying to determine his future, trying to fend off all the rumours, making sure he doesn’t tip his hand, being party to this underperforming Raptors team, nodding to the crowd is hardly something the matters.

Bosh may not be LeBron James or even Kevin Durant, but you can’t argue with his deportment with the Raptors.

That has always been above board.

I.S.U. SHOWS SOME CLASS

Spend a minute or two around the stuffy autocrats who run the International Skating Union and it’s easy to be disgusted by the bosses of figure skating.

Just not this week, however.

The ISU relented on its own rules in the case of the grieving Joannie Rochette, enabling the Canadian skater to pass on the world championships and skate a tribute to her late mother in a U.S. show.

The ISU did what it normally wouldn’t do: It did the right thing, acting with logic, dignity and tact, none of which it has ever been known for.


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