|Leafs forward Phil Kessel is backtracking from comments he made on Sunday concerning his struggles this season. (QMI Agency/Dave Thomas)
TORONTO - Leafs forward Phil Kessel set the record straight on Monday morning: he doesn't want to go anywhere.
“I love Toronto, I want to be here,” Kessel said after the Leafs skated in preparation for their home game against the Atlanta Thrashers. “I love the city, I love the fans, I love the team. The guys are great here. I don’t want any trade or anything like that. I want to be here.”
Kessel made the statements in response to rumours flying around cyberspace that the snake-bitten sniper wants out of Toronto.
“Obviously, I’m frustrated. The way it’s going right now. We’re not winning. I need to be better out there,” said Kessel, who hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. “I’ve had opportunities, I have to score. So I’m obviously frustrated, right? But in no sense did I ever mean I wanted a trade.”
Kessel wanted to address the escalating situation after he made comments following practice on Sunday when he learned he would be taken off a line with good pal Tyler Bozak for the Atlanta game and instead be playing with Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce. Kessel also had been benched for part of the third period in a 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. He was minus-2 in that game.
The disgruntled winger told media on Sunday that “Me and Ron really don’t talk,” which fueled speculation there is a rift with the Leafs coach, and “Maybe it’s just not working out here I guess. I can’t get anything going. Maybe it’s time for a change or something.”
Kessel said on Monday the change he was referring to was having new linemates, not that he was looking to be traded.
For his part, Wilson said there is no rift between himself and Kessel and that the two had a good chat prior to Monday’s morning skate.
“Phil just has to relax. I told him to relax,” Wilson told the media. “We don’t have any issues and eventually you’re going to come out (of the slump). “What you are seeing in Phil is not an issue with me, it’s an issue with not scoring. And he’s frustrated. And it’s good that he’s frustrated.
“With Phil it’s been common that he goes throughout his career into these little ruts where he doesn’t score for 10 games … There’s other things you can do to help the team, so that’s what we talked about today.”
To make matters worse for Kessel is the fact that he is a team worse minus-22.
“We’re not singling him out or anything like that. He’s not scoring and we’re trying to shake things up a little bit, put him with different people, others who have been successful in the last month and just forget about scoring goals and making sure he’s helping us get pucks out of our zone, that he’s back-checking with the same passion everybody else is … And not forsaking the game defensively in order to score a goal. I think he understands that. We had a great conversation about all that.”
Perhaps playing the Thrashers is just the tonic that Kessel’s sagging offensive game needs. The last time these two teams met on Jan. 7 the Leafs won 9-3 and Kessel scored once.
Goaltender J-S Giguere will be back in net as the team tries to put this episode behind it and focus on winning games.