All this has happened before, and all this will happen again. (YESSS, two nerdy sci-fi references and I’m just getting warmed up!)
As is well-documented, Bostonians are fiercely loyal to our home teams. Like, excessively fiercely loyal. I’m guilty of this, as are millions of other fans around the New England region. We will defend our teams to the end, we’ll punch you in the face (or at the very least, curse your entire family including your dead grandma) if you mention 18-1 or the Yankees’ eleventy-billion World Series trophies or the Canadiens’ eleventy-billion Stanley Cups, and we will sure as hell sport our jerseys/hats/team gear in enemy territory with the greatest of pride. Spot another Red Sox cap or Patriots t-shirt while you’re away from the region, and a fist-bump or at the very least a nod and a smile is totally necessary, while an extensive conversation about whatever teams are currently playing is highly encouraged.
There is a flip-side, though: a player leaves us for an enemy team and badmouth our city, and they are DEAD to us.
We saw it when Damon went to the Yankees, when Clemens finally left Boston, and to a smaller extent, when Vinatieri left for Indy, though Vinatieri was a lot more gracious to his former team. Boston has a long history of feeling used by the players we loved; hypothetically, this dates back to Babe Ruth. It’s totally legitimate, though – if you love a player and he abandons your team for one you hate, obviously the hate is going to transfer. If the abandonment is for monetary reasons, the hate will multiply exponentially. If the player sings the praises of the new team and basically craps all over Boston? Forget it, we’re done. (see: Clemens, Roger.)
As of Friday, it has happened again. Phil Kessel, the Bruins’ leading scorer in 2008-2009, has signed a 5-year, $27-million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s the end of a four-month-long run of outrageous rumors and speculation that had Kessel going to any of four or five different teams – as soon as David Krejci signed his contract, we started looking for Kessel to sign something similar. More time went by that that didn’t happen, and more and more fans started feeling – for lack of a better word – used.
To continue the Roger Clemens parallels, Kessel even went to Toronto and declared it the best hockey city in the world, to which Boston fans have not responded well. A team that barely broke .500 last year, who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and who doesn’t appear to have the wherewithal to win one anytime soon, versus the Eastern Conference champs, a team that went into the playoffs with countless injuries and still managed to claw their way to a second-round Game 7, a team that has been consistently improving over the last three years?
Sounds a lot like Clemens’ actions, when he left the improving Red Sox in 1996 for a terrible Toronto Blue Jays team, signing a 4-year contract and then going on to snub the Sox and sing the Jays’ praises. The Jays? Really, guy? It’s common knowledge that the Jays were and continue to be terrible, as is the case with the Leafs. It doesn’t make much sense.
Boston fans shouldn’t throw Kessel under the bus just yet, though. True, he snubbed Julien’s efforts to get him to bulk up and put some weight on, his play didn’t seem consistent with Boston’s gritty system and he demanded far more money than he’s probably actually worth – but have some pity on the kid. Toronto hockey fans are comparable to Red Sox fans before 2004 or Cubs fans now: they’re desperate, they’re angry, and they WILL NOT HESITATE to put bone-crushing pressure on their own players to perform – especially ones with whale-sized contracts like Kessel’s.
Bruins fans need not worry, either – true, Kessel was our top scorer last year, but look who fed him most of his scoring passes: Marc Savard. Unless Kess can find someone to do similar up in T-dot, it’s unlikely he’ll have nearly that level of production. In our corner, for those worried about who will pick up the slack on all those goals, here’s two words for you: Marco Sturm.
The Sturminator was out for most of last season, so look for him to produce some decent numbers this year. Additionally, look at Boston’s numbers from last year. We had more 20+ goal scorers than any other team (seven). Krejci and Savard each had more points than Kessel. Seven players had more assists. Five players had a higher +/-, which is obviously my favorite stat.
Additionally, what we got for Kessel is great – the Leafs officially don’t have a first round pick until 2012. If the Leafs bomb this season and then next, the Bruins get those picks – so forget Kessel. Seriously, just forget about him. Stop picking and poking fun at him. The deal’s done, he’s gone, and chew on this, too – a player that a lot of people questioned has been shipped out, cap space has been saved, and now there’s less stress on signing fan favorites like Wheeler, Savard and Lucic next year when their contracts expire. I love this game.
So let’s all sing a round of kumbaya and get over this Kessel thing, and start cheering for the Leafs to firebomb their season as a whole. The fallout will be nuclear-level spectacular.
BONUS COMMENTARY FROM MHCRANBERRY:
I am praying that the media in Toronto doesn’t eat Kess alive. How many times did he speak to the media last year? 3? 5? This is a painfully shy young man. He’s now expected to be a team leader. Yikes.
No one can convince me that Kessel didn’t ask to be traded. He may not have come out and said the words, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he made it clear he didn’t want to roll with the black and gold anymore. And from everything I’ve heard from former teammates, coaches, etc., this was without a doubt probably for the best.
It has amazed me over the past few weeks how there is absolutely no faith in Bruins management these days. While winning seasons are all nice and good, there are decades of appalling decisions that clearly have traumatized Boston hockey fans. There’s a lot of work that that FO needs to do to get fans to believe in them. I think a Stanley Cup would help, obviously, but honestly, the PR situation is something they should consider. There is no trust. None.
There will be times when this will feel like a bad deal. Kessel will score an awesome goal against us, and it will sting, and we will be despondent. But we don’t know what would have happened if he had stayed in Boston.
We won’t lose because he isn’t here; it will be the team we have that will lose the games. We just have to move on.
And in the meantime, Phil, thanks for everything, we love you. Good luck, but, you know, not too much.
Photos courtesy of Steve Babineau/the Boston Bruins, The Boston Globe, and Steve Grant of larrytt.com