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Kessel Is A Gunner Without A Centre

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Burke says coaches and players routinely disagree just the way Phil Kessel and Ron Wilson did Sunday.


Of course, he is right.

Burke’s solution is to put him in the same room and let them hammer it out which they did Monday to everyone’s satisfaction. Kessel came out saying he did not want to leave Toronto.

Wilson reiterated his support for his snake-bitten sniper.

It doesn’t go much farther than this: Kessel is mired in a 10-game scoring slump. Wilson is more than willing to move an unproductive player down the depth chart and explain to the media precisely why.

The problem isn’t Phil Kessel. The problem isn’t Ron Wilson.

The problem is a sinkhole that starts in the middle of what should be, has to be your number one line.

The Clarke MacArthur-Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin unit is a spectacular second line and a key bridge between the Leafs and the team’s playoff aspirations.

The defence and goaltending need shoring up but everything improves with a productive, dangerous first line. First-line wingers like Kessel, for example, force opposition teams out of their game plans. They command attention from the opposition’s most skilled defenders. They enliven the power play. Plus-minus figures look a little less grievous when you consider one third of a gunner’s goals come with the man advantage.

Everything falls into place if Kessel finds a meal-ticket, but to be fair, those players are not his current linemates, Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb.

A third line with Tyler Bozak-Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg would be one of the game’s better units.

Phil Kessel is a gunner. He is not Brett Hull, but he has to touch the puck about as long as Hull which is to say not much at all. God did not put Phil Kessel on this earth to cycle the puck.

Question:  What do you get when you trot out a gunner without a comparable centre?

Answer: Nineteen goals.

Burke needn’t worry about the relationship between his coach and his most talented goal-scorer. That will take care of itself when Kessel scores 45 goals in a season instead of 25.

Burke knows the real work revolves around getting a top-drawer centreman but even the market for restricted free agents is bereft of the kind of playmaking centremen who could help. But there are two governing principles in hockey, in most sports for that matter. The first is, you don’t win without talent. The second is everyone gets along when you win.

Burke knows the real work revolves around getting a top-drawer centreman. This is the signature move he somehow has to conjure and it has to happen. Even the market for restricted free agents is bereft of the kind of playmaking centremen who could help. No one believes this is going to be easy.
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