Dunlap: Kessel Should Have Spoken

Pens winger could have cleared up a lot of things

Colin Dunlap
May 10, 2018 - 1:31 pm

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I can think Phil Kessel is a brilliant hockey player. One of the the finest offensive weapons in the National Hockey League who can turn a game on its ear in a quick blink --- and I do. 

I can think Phil Kessel was huge in helping give this city and franchise two Stanley Cups, was in a way a big piece they needed to help propel them over a hump --- and I do. 

I can think Phil Kessel is a wonderful yet misunderstood man, who is beloved by his teammates --- and I do. 

I can also think it would have been in the best interest of Phil Kessel to talk to the media on Wednesday for the team's final media availability during "locker clean out day" so as to clear up a thing or two --- and I do.

You see, what I am getting at is that it isn't an all or nothing proposition. You can (as I have been) be of the opinion that Kessel is all of those wonderful things yet it would have been nice to hear what, if anything, was hampering his health in the Stanley Cup playoffs. To be perfectly and undeniably clear, Kessel was under no obligation to speak with the media on Wednesday, but he did fall into the overwhelming minority as just about all of the players made time for exit interviews, even in the aftermath of what had to be a gut-punch of a loss to the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs. 

To make matters a bit more cloudy, Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan appeared to be on conflicting pages; Rutherford saying Kessel dealt with injuries all season while Sullivan pretty much pushed forward the notion that the winger wasn't any more banged up than the requisite banging up you get from a season that drifts from the regular season into the postseason. 

So, to be clear, there isn't any clarity.

Oh well.

One man who could have provided it was Kessel and he wasn't anywhere to be found. Now, I get that he doesn't have the personality that is all warm and fuzzy and he generally cares for talking to the media about as much as you or I care for a root canal, but this seemed like a very special circumstance. Maybe I'm all wrong here, but one of the most asked questions --- among those in the fan base and in media circles --- during the playoffs circled around Kessel. And it was simple. Was Phil Kessel hurt or was he just playing poorly? That seemed (and still does seem) a very fair question as his production in the postseason wasn't anywhere near that of the heights he reached during the regular season. It wasn't nearly what he did in the last few playoffs, either. 

Look, it felt like overriding sentiment was that it was OK to go in on Derick Brassard for his lack of production in the playoffs, so why does Phil Kessel get a free pass in all of this? It turns out that Brassard was dealing with an injury --- that was disclosed on Wednesday --- so his lack of production is a bit understandable yet not fully excusable. In watching Phil Kessel against the Flyers and then the Capitals, logic screams that he was hurt.

You could pretty much see it.

But we don't know for sure.   

I'd love to exonerate the guy for his poor play this postseason; I'd love to chalk it up as Kessel having a bad playoff run due fully to being injured. 

But can we? I don't think we can. Phil Kessel had a chance to clear all that up and no-showed. He had a right to, there is no question; he had a right to stay away from locker clean out day --- but in doing so, he also now leaves speculation open that maybe he didn't have a debilitating injury. You know, maybe he just played poorly. It's all so confusing. And it's a confusion that easily could have been headed off by showing up.