Ever hear someone say that in hockey, the best way to really see the separation between good and great is to see the game live, in the flesh? Well it’s true. I can tell who the best players are just from watching at home on television, but when you take in a hockey game at the arena, the most skilled players will stand out more than ever.

I’ve been to a live Leafs game this season – it was the Leafs and Penguins in October, the game where Kessel saved the day in the third and made Brent Johnson look like a drunk as he stumbled to stop a cruising one-timer. No chance. Leafs win 4-3.

Now it had been a while since I watched the Leafs in person, the last time was against the Senators and I was blown away by how much skill Sundin, Spezza and Kaberle had at the time, how much better they were than everyone else. In the game I took in this past October there were also three players who stood out: Evgeni Malkin (obviously), Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel.

The reason I’m writing this is in part because of two things: Phil Kessel is great at hockey, and people are idiots sometimes.

There’s no doubt you’ve read some stuff about why the Leafs should explore trading Kessel recently. It’s baseless junk but it brings in page hits for those who try to get a rise out of Leafs fans. Guys like Cox and Berger want attention, and they get it. It’s fine, whatever. They’ve been doing it for a long time.

But if you’re under the impression that Phil Kessel isn’t an incredible hockey talent, or that he’s the problem with the current Toronto Maple Leafs, then you’re out of touch with what’s happening in hockey right now. It’s as simple as that. Suggesting these things is truly idiotic, and left for, well, idiots. And it’s almost worse when folks try to point to off-ice things to bring Kessel down.

This bag of trash was thrown on us from Jeff Blair after the Leafs’ loss against the Islanders, regarding Burke:

He has no goaltender, his leading scorer is a milquetoast, Tom Thumb guy who shrinks even further in front of the cameras and nobody knows for certain whether his team captain has credibility in the dressing room.

Know what’s crazy? I don’t even dislike Blair’s column all that much. His focus was more so on Burke and questioning his future, and whether you agree or disagree it at least made some sense. But taking a cheap shot at Kessel because he’s not a great interview or whatever is just absolute bullshit and I don’t understand why people have to do it.

It’s the same with Damien Cox and these other fools. For example, Gord Stellick had this to say about Kessel when these guys were starting their little “run Kessel out of town” trick a few days back:

I think you can look at Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline going for a first- rounder, a late first-rounder, and go from there.

I don’t need to comment on this because it’s so stupid, but at least we can just sit back and laugh at Stellick for a while.

You’d think that, considering these guys are supposed to be “experts”, they could come up with something better than attacking one of the only good players on this failing team. But here we are.

If you need to find out how good Kessel is, it doesn’t require a lot of effort. He’s right on the first page of the statistics, just click the link that says “League Leaders”; there you’ll find he’s 4th in the league in points, 3rd in goal-scoring. That’s in the NHL, National Hockey League, regarded as the best hockey league on this planet, so I guess one could argue that Kessel is one of the most talented hockey players on Earth. Is this statement wrong?

If this is all incorrect, then I guess the real answer must be that Kessel “doesn’t play with heart” or he isn’t vocal in the dressing room, thus making him a bad hockey player. What a joke.

I’ve got a scenario: let’s move ahead two years from now, and it’s Olympics time. Who’s your pick for the gold medal game? Well, it should be Canada and the USA unless you’re half-crazy and think the Russians or Swedes have made some kind of enormous strides recently. If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely pictured the roster our country will potentially put forth in 2014 a few times. Now, if you give the USA roster even 2 minutes of thought right now, who’s there? Basically anyone with a brain has Phil Kessel in the Americans’ top six forwards, easily.

This guy is good enough to be a shoe-in for one of the two best hockey countries, but apparently is what’s wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a thirty team league. I guess it’ll be the Americans’ loss, Kessel may fill the net and help them medal but his post-game interviews could be a little awkward. Maybe they should reconsider.

Email and follow on twitter @rfancey3

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