Burke backs Kessel, big shocker

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:47 PM ET

TORONTO - The joke making the rounds on press row on Monday night was that Phil Kessel’s hooking penalty in the first period, which led to Atlanta’s opening goal, wasn’t Kessel’s fault because he was back checking on the play — and the fact that he was back checking threw the ref for a loop.

Hence the penalty.

Okay, not a real back slapper, more of a snarky media joke.

But Kessel is a minus-20 this season for a reason.

He’s not scoring and he’s playing indifferently defensively. Actually, a better word than indifferently would be crappy.

Yet Leafs GM Brian Burke insisted on Monday, between the first and second period, that his Golden Boy has not been a disappointment during his current scoring slump, nor is it his fault that he hasn’t scored in 11 games. And the media guys, Burke said, are wrong to suggest as much.

“I don’t know what you guys are watching, but he’s been dangerous every night,” Burke said on Monday night.

I’ve been watching a lot of Leafs games. And Burke is right. Kessel has been dangerous every night. Dangerously flawed.

Yes, he’s been getting scoring chances.

But if a scorer can’t score, he’s supposed to do other things to help his team, like get dirty in the corners and try to make things happen for his linemates, and maybe play some sound hockey defensively.

Apparently we’ve been watching some other No. 81 in a Leafs uniform lollygag on any number of shifts this season.

“If he wasn’t working and wasn’t getting quality scoring chances, I’d be a lot more concerned,” the Leafs GM added.

Burke said the reasons Kessel hasn’t put up the numbers this season is “a failure of team personnel.”

“No I’m not disappointed in Phil,” Burke said. “We may not have all the pieces on the chessboard.”

True. The Leafs are missing a king and queen a lot of knights and rooks.

But it’s time to stop treating Kessel with kid gloves.

Even his coach, Ron Wilson, who has been known to throw his players under the occasional Greyhound, has treaded lightly in dealing with Kessel, who took a shot at his coach on Sunday and then backtracked on Monday.

My guess is the media-shy Kessel probably does want out of Toronto.

But even if he did, there’s very little chance Burke would trade him. Kessel’s his guy, his big acquisition (other than Dion Phaneuf).

How many times has Burke said if he could make the Kessel trade over again, he’d absolutely do it again?

So how could he ever trade him? Wouldn’t that be admitting a mistake?

Besides Kessel’s stock has gone down since Burke snatched him.

And here’s no way he’d get two first round draft picks backs, not even from the Calgary Flames.

CELEBRATING BURNSY

The life and work of former Maple Leafs coach Pat Burns will be celebrated on March 7 at the Horseshoe Tavern — one of Burnsy’s favourite watering holes when he was in T.O. The event, hosted by Rod Black, will feature music by Morningstar Guitar Army, led by musician/author, and fanatical recreational hockey player, Dave Bidini. There will also be a silent auction featuring a guitar painted by award-winning artiest Matt James, as well as a gallery of sweaters provided by Burns’ teams and a night for two at the Leafs’ Alumni Box. Tickets are available at the Horseshoe or going to Ticketmaster.

WILD LEAFS STUFF

Anthem singer John McDermott (former Toronto Sun employee) and Monday night’s honoree Darryl Sittler look like twin brothers standing beside each other at centre ice ... If they put you on the ‘Dream Weaver’ Cam, at the ACC do something. Stick out your tongue, pour beer over your seatmate, do something. Don’t sit there looking like a deer in the headlights.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter@beezersun


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