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Kessel The Lone All-Star

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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When Phil Kessel hits Raleigh, NC, for the NHL’s all-star weekend he will do so as a solo act.

Kessel was the only Maple Leaf named to the team on Tuesday, but the next time he plays in the game he will likely be among friends.

All-star berths aren’t earned in isolation.

When the game is played at month’s end, Vancouver teammates Henrik and Daniel Sedin will be all-stars because of their mastery of a two-man version of keepaway.

Same for Dallas gunner Loui Erickson and his longtime centreman Brad Richards. Chicago all-stars Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews complete each other’s sentences.

Top producers feed each other. Consider the 25 goals owned by leftwinger Daniel Sedin. His brother Henrik has scored only nine times but they both have 54 points. Wonder where Henrik is getting all those assists.

Look to Tampa where Steve Stamkos’ 57 points is only four points better than the total of his linemate Martin St. Louis. Eriksson doesn’t change his shirt without input from Richards. The veteran centre has 49 points, three more than Eriksson.

To make a musical reference, for every Hull there has been an Oates. See what I did there?

Which brings us back to Phil Kessel. At this writing, the 23-year-old Kessel has scored 18 times and bagged 30 points. Tyler Bozak has 17 points including 10 assists. Bozak has assisted on three of Kessel’s most recent six goals. Judging by a look at the assist total, that’s about the way it has gone.

It is not news that Bozak, a player who can also win draws and cover for Kessel’s goal poaching, has struggled offensively. Given premium ice time and power play situations, Bozak is on pace for 14 goals and 34 points and the gut level chemistry he enjoyed with Kessel last season has been sparse. If the two were clicking, Kessel would have 25 goals and Bozak would have earned all-star consideration.

And so to maximize an asset for which they paid dearly, the Leafs will do one of the following.

-Hang tough with Bozak a player who while 24 has played only 78 games.

-Deal for a number one guy, the very commodity most coveted across the league.

-Take a number in the Brad Richards free-agent sweepstakes.

-Hit gold with a European or college free agent who has yet to be identified.

-Wait a few years for dynamic centreman Nazem Kadri to hit his stride.

On the other side, Leafs coach Ron Wilson will seek his 600th NHL victory tonight when the Leafs face one his old teams, the San Jose Sharks.

You don’t get to 599 victories without a generous amount of help. Wilson coached what at the time was the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks and then the Maple Leafs. Along the way he has profited from having Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Peter Bondra, Adam Oates, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to direct over the boards.

While he took the Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, San Jose was the site of Wilson’s finest work.

After a 19-victory season in his first year, Wilson guided the Sharks to 43, 44, 51 and then finally a 49-win season. But Wilson could never get the Sharks through the vicious parity of the Western Conference and he was fired after the club lost in the conference semi-finals.

He sits seventh in total coaching victories behind Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Dick Irvin, Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan and then Bryan Murray who leads Wilson 620 wins to 599.
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