(Note: The following column is scheduled to run in next Sunday’s edition of the Toronto Sun. It is being printed here with permission from Sun Media and its author, decorated Canadian sports columnist Steve Simmons)
So, the Stanley Cup has been raised by the Penguins who are as worthy a champion as the NHL as seen in some time.
The list of reasons why Pittsburgh won is a long one: the incredible leadership of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby, the electric skill of Kris Letang, the fresh perspective of coach Mike Sullivan, the wise-beyond-his-years resolve of rookie goalie Matt Murray. Lesser role players like Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin also helped guide the Penguins to their first championship since 2009.
But only one of member of the team stands out as the kind of player the Toronto Maple Leafs need if they expect to lift their own Cup soon: Phil Kessel.
Kessel was Pittsburgh’s most consistent goal scorer throughout the playoffs. His speed and accurate shot were on display every night. Something special could happen any time he had the puck including late in the deciding Game 6. He was humble and low-key between games, preferring to let his play do the talking.
The Leafs already have assembled a talented pool of prospects that are the envy of the NHL. Future superstars like William Nylander, Mitch Marner and soon Auston Matthews will need to be taught valuable lessons by a veteran leader. Come to the rink, play your game and stay grounded. That is how you become a champion.
If there is a way for Toronto to acquire Kessel this summer via trade, the Leafs’ brain trust needs to find it and make it happen. Winners like him don’t grow on trees. Having one would exponentially accelerate Toronto's already impressive rebuild.
This and That
You know who else could have used a Phil Kessel-type player: The San Jose Sharks. ... Yes, it’s true that Kessel previously played for the Leafs and things did not go smoothly for him here. But this Kessel is clearly a different player who understands what it takes to win in the NHL. Forget about why the Leafs traded him away in the first place. ... Some wiseacres on the internet think sports columnists get players traded. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Sorry to disappoint. ... I watched a Blue Jays game this week. I think they lost. I’m not really sure. ... Shame on Dean Lombardi, Brian Burke and Team USA management for not including Kessel on the roster for the World Cup of Hockey. Heaven knows what they were thinking by excluding him. ... For some reason, lots of people think I hate Kessel. This could not be further from the truth. I showed him the utmost respect as an athlete and as a person during his time in Toronto. I said he was more concerned with eating hot dogs than winning hockey games because it was an inside joke between the two of us. That’s just the way colleagues kid each other in the locker room. Basement “bloggers” and stat heads would have to be there to understand.
Scene and Heard
Okay, I made up the hot dog thing. A guy told me he used to see a guy buying hot dogs near him that looked a lot like Kessel. It seemed plausible so I went with it. I didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. Sometimes I forget I am a widely-read and influential columnist for a major media conglomerate. I apologize to myself for my decision. ... Seriously, if you’re the one who has been mailing hot dogs to my home, please stop. It’s been almost a year. I’ve been feeding them to my poodle. Poor Lanny now weighs 134 pounds and has weeks to live unless we get him on a special doggie crossfit program designed by Gary Roberts. This is animal cruelty. Lanny did nothing to deserve this. ... Anybody else think the Raptors could beat this season’s Golden State Warriors, the 1996 Chicago Bulls, 1955 Syracuse Nationals and any Lakers or Celtics team from 1979 through 1988 in single playoff year? I do. ... Kessel’s birthday is October 2. I expect him to be back on the Leafs by then. I’d like to wish him a happy birthday in person. ... Hey, whatever happened to Kaspari Kapanen and Scott Harrington?
This is obviously fake and not at all written by the real Steve Simmons, who has probably already blocked me and LHH on Twitter by the time you read this.