TORONTO – Phil Kessel laughed off the notion that a couple of pre-season slashing incidents mean he needs to control his emotions better.
Last week he took swings at Flyers defenceman Luke Schenn’s shins because he didn’t like his friend and former Maple Leafs teammate jabbing at him. Then there was Sunday night’s brawl, when he slashed Sabres tough guy John Scott multiple times, earning a suspension for Toronto’s final three pre-season games.
“I just think that the slashing and the hacking and whacking … I just think it’s better served to channel your energy in another way,” coach Randy Carlyle said after the game against Philadelphia last week.
Kessel considers those situations more of an anomaly than the start of a troubling trend.
“I think my emotions are pretty good, in general,” he said. “I just go and play.”
Of course now Kessel is a player with a record on file in the NHL’s department of player safety. He escaped missing any regular-season games and the loss of salary that would entail, but the Leafs star will be treated as a repeat offender moving forward.
That could mean tougher supplemental discipline if he gets in trouble in the future, and any suspension would carry with it a heavier loss of salary.
But Kessel doesn’t think this pre-season will invite opponents to goad him into more penalties.
“I think I average like under 20 penalty minutes a year or something like that or around there, so it’s not like I take a lot of penalties,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
In his first six full seasons, Kessel has averaged just above 20 penalty minutes and never had more than 28, though his 18 last year would have been by far a career high if extrapolating over 82 games.
Kessel picked up a 10-minute match penalty for slashing Scott as part of the line brawl. He said the extra whack after the initial encounter was “probably uncalled for,” justifying it with the explanation that the situation developed quickly.
And Kessel has a simple response to those critical of his actions.
“Put ’em in that situation and see what they do,” he said. “I think a lot of people that can criticize that, let’s see what they could do out there versus a guy like that. I think they’d all be in a lot of trouble.”
Kessel is in trouble for the rest of training camp because coach Randy Carlyle expects him to “really practice hard” while unable to participate in pre-season games. Naturally, Kessel isn’t looking forward to it.
“When he says that, it’s probably going to be hard,” Kessel said. “I’m not necessarily looking forward to his bag skates.”
That doesn’t mean his teammates can’t get a little fun out if it.
“I think he’d rather play the games than bag skate every day,” centre Tyler Bozak said. “I’ll probably be out hanging by the glass watching him skate a few days.”
That’s the punishment that comes with the suspension, considered more of a slap on the wrist than any real discipline.
If nothing else, getting his first disciplinary conference call and first NHL suspension made Kessel a little more aware that “you can’t just go and two-hand people.”
Now that Kessel knows he won’t miss any regular-season games, he can focus on the season opener Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens. What he’s not concerned about are contract talks with the Leafs, which apparently have not gotten any traction.
“I’m not really worried about it,” Kessel said. “Nothing’s happening and we move on.”