Happy Canada Day Toronto
Fans, teammates, team personnel, and local/national media in Toronto and across the country in Canada won't have Phil Kessel (the American sniper) to drag you down anymore... or was that you won't have Kessel to drag through the distorted deathtrap that is the 'mecca' of hockey.
Reality is, no one wants to deal with that situation in Toronto. There's a reason why Toronto hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and it isn't just bad ownership or inept front office personnel.
Honestly, some of the criticism placed at the skates of Kessel was probably born from nationalistic feelings for Toronto to have an American as their best player and not a big strong Canadian boy from the sod farms of Thunder Bay.
What else did Leafs fan expect from Kessel? He never missed a game and scored goals. It wasn't his fault teammates failed to produce or former front office group couldn't stop giving away bad contracts.
In Pittsburgh, it might hurt losing a young forward prospect like Kasperi Kapanen, another first round pick, and defensive depth with Scott Harrington but if that's the main cost with Nick Spaling and a third round pick going away while getting the best player... there's nothing not to like.
While some might pause losing some younger talent and assets, what's to fear? Kessel is 27 years old and probably has at least four to five years of good scoring left in those hands.
Line Up and Play
For this season, a top six of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, David Perron and newly signed Sergei Plotnikov should be a winning formula as it allows others to play in their proper role.
Brandon Sutter won't be centering Bobby Farnham and Bryan Rust, instead he'll have Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis to form a legit third scoring line.
Questions still remain about the fourth line as General Manager Jim Rutherford signed veteran Kevin Porter as likely depth in the event Oskar Sundqvist struggles in camp or during the season. The team has youngsters Scott Wilson and Beau Bennett to compete on the wings.
Urgency to Win
This season is quite important as Perron and Sutter are currently set to be unrestricted free agents after the season ends and without any quality depth behind Sundqvist and Bennett, urgency to win now is very important as each lost season without another Stanley Cup is one less season of a productive Crosby and Malkin.
A Power Play Worth Watching
As much as I'm excited to see Kessel flying around the ice with Crosby or Malkin at even strength, cannot fathom the possibility of finally seeing a right-handed shot on the left side of the power play. Kessel on the left wing boards isn't just about his ability to fire lasers from the one-timer scoring a bountiful of goals but more importantly, it will FINALLY force teams to play an honest 4-man box killing penalties and stop shifting all their focus to the right side where Crosby and Malkin are standing around.
Kessel at the left, Malkin in the middle, and Crosby on the right boards will drive coaches and penalty killers crazy that it just might open up the space for the superstars to look like competent power play performers, something neither Crosby and Malkin have looked like for the last few years.
Are Kunitz and Dupuis going to be accepting of their new roles on the third line?
Who wins the fifth and sixth spots on defense? There's a logjam of competition against veterans Ben Lovejoy and Rob Scuderi with Brian Dumoulin, Tim Erixon, Niclas Andersen, Steve Olesky, and David Warsofsky.
Does the team go into the season with Jeff Zatkoff as the backup with Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry splitting time in the AHL or does the team try to sign a veteran to backup Marc-Andre Fleury?