Are Toronto Maples Leafs Problems All Kessel’s Fault?


Dec 29, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) during the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In light of  the Toronto Maple Leafs firing head coach Randy Carlyle, accusations abound suggesting that Phil Kessel may be to blame. The question isn’t “is it Kessel’s fault?” but rather, “is it fair to blame a player?”

The first accusation that Phil Kessel was a problem player and may have caused Carlyle to be let go came not long after Carlyle was fired. Former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson went on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto and and blamed the players for Carlyle’s ouster and specifically called out Kessel:

"I think you can win with Phil Kessel. He shows obvious signs of brilliance throughout the year. But Phil’s problem, and I think it’s pretty much the way Phil’s been his whole career, he’s two weeks on and two weeks off. … You can’t rely on Phil. It’s just the way it is."

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  • But Wilson didn’t stop there. He went on to blame the entire team for the firing:

    "These guys, some of the core players, have failed under two or three different coaches, so it’s gotta be the players’ fault."

    Yep, that must be it. No other alternative. It couldn’t possibly be that the Maple Leafs keep hiring the wrong head coach. Apparently Wilson doesn’t know that correlation does not mean causation.

    Is it the Toronto Maple Leafs Problems All Kessel’s fault?

    According to the Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk, it might be. Feschuck asked Kessel if Kessel was a difficult player to coach and then suggested that Carlyle’s firing might be Kessel’s fault. Kessel responded by calling Feschuck “an idiot.”

    The problem, though, is that Feschuk’s question assumes that there was, or may have been, a single factor in Carlyle’s firing. That’s kind of hard to believe when one sees that the Maple Leafs are currently sitting in a playoff spot. Coaches don’t tend to get fired when their team is a playoff team. But the Maple Leafs are one of the most popular teams in the NHL and nothing short of being on top is good enough. Not when you are a team of Toronto’s caliber.

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    Phil Kessel is top ten in both in overall points and in goals scored, he takes very few penalties (ten minutes to far this season), and is arguably one of the best players in the league. These stats don’t prove that Kessel is a model player, but it suggests that he is much more of a help than a hinderence.

    The Verdict on Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs

    Blaming players for a coach’s firing is a cop out. It’s a coach’s job to motivate the team, to structure a game plan that works to the players’ strengths, and to manage individual player’s personalities. If a coach cannot do these things, then chances are the coach will be fired.

    I am not dismissing the fact that there are problem players in sports, there certainly are, but one of the coach’s responsibilities is to deal with those types of players. Good and great coaches can accomplish that. Carlyle was fired because the Maple Leafs organization felt that he fail at doing what he was hired to do.

    Phil Kessel: Not Guilty

    Toronto Maple Leafs: Guilty of hiring the wrong types of head coaches