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Kessel: 'I love Toronto. I want to be here' Add to ...

Ron Wilson and Phil Kessel had a heart to heart.

Kessel and his teammates did, too.

And as the Toronto Maple Leafs prepared to face the Atlanta Thrashers tonight, all parties involved dismissed Kessel's comments about the team and his coach from a day earlier as nothing more than the frustrated words of a 23-year-old player who struggles at the best of times to put his feelings into words.

“Obviously I love Toronto, I want to be here," Kessel said (audio). "I love the city, I love the fans, I love the team. The guys are great here. I don’t want any trade or anything like that. I want to be here for a very long time. I love it here.

“Obviously I’m frustrated. The way it’s going right now, we’re not winning, I need to be better out there. I’ve had opportunities, I need to score, so obviously I’m frustrated, right? But in no sense did I ever mean I wanted a trade. I think when someone asks the question ‘what do you think about your new line?’ that’s what I meant. It was taken out of context, I guess."

Kessel's new linemate Darryl Boyce said that the Leafs star addressed the team this morning regarding his comments.

"He was just as shocked as everybody else was this morning at how it got delivered in the newspapers in the morning," Boyce said. "It all got talked over here this morning before we went on the ice. He let us know that he didn't mean anything by it or that he wanted out of here by any means. He's just looking forward to tonight."

Boyce was asked what Kessel had to say to the team.

"How it got misrepresented and how it looked like he wanted off the team as opposed to just being okay with lines being juggled," he said. "How he's just a player like anybody else in here and he'll accept changes just as much as anybody else, getting lines shaken up like this."

Kessel's comments after yesterday's practice appeared to come in response to being shuffled off a line with close friend Tyler Bozak and onto one with Boyce as his centre. Kessel was on a line with Boyce and Joey Crabb at practice and wearing a red jersey, a colour generally designated for the team's third line.

Kessel also remarked how he and Wilson didn't talk to one another, which was followed by the coach offering a detailed critique of Kessel's play in his own end.

The story stirred up a storm over the following 24 hours, and by the time Kessel came off the ice today after the morning skate, there was a small army of media awaiting his comments.

Wilson faced similar questioning but firmly denied there was an issue between he and his highest paid forward.

"We had a good talk today," Wilson said (audio). "What you're seeing in Phil is not an issue with me, it's an issue with not scoring. He's frustrated. And it's good that he's frustrated. But what we talked about is what do you do when you are?

"With Phil it's been common that he goes throughout his career into these little ruts where he doesn't score for 10 games, but there's other things you can help the team do. So that's what we talked about today."

"There's no problem," Kessel said. "At all. Obviously I think it's taken wrong again. But that's how it goes right?"

Kessel's teammates had some fun with all of the media attention today, playing down what was a bit of a zoo at the morning skate.

"You kind of get used to it and get adjusted to it," defenceman Luke Schenn said. "It's all part of it. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else now. It's exciting just to come to rink every day. Sometimes there is a story about nothing, but I guess everyone still cares about you and all the fans care and it's nice that people pay attention."

"You guys put a lot of pressure on him, maybe force him to say some things out of context," Bozak said. "I don't think he meant it the way they showed it on TV. Everyone in here knows that he's happy to be here and we're happy to have him. We want him here as long as we can and we all get along with him."

Kessel's struggles on the ice have been well documented. While he 19 goals and 34 points in 52 games, putting him on pace for 30 goals and 54 points, he is minus-22 and hasn't scored in his last 10 games.

One of the major issues for Kessel this season has been the quality of his linemates, as Bozak has struggled mightily in his second NHL season and Toronto hasn't found a suitable left winger for their line. While Kessel's shooting percentage is down slightly (8.6 per cent) from his career average of 10 per cent, the Leafs' even strength shooting percentage with Kessel on the ice is only 5.8 per cent, lower than almost every other regular on the team.

While the Leafs are generating a considerable number of shots on goal when Kessel is on the ice, those opportunities aren't going in.

At the other end of the ice, where Kessel's never been known to have much of an impact, pucks are going in, which is where that ugly minus number is coming from more than anything.

"I'm getting chances, am I not?" Kessel said. "That's all I've got to say. I don't know what you want me to say."

"He has to just figure out a way to just relax," Wilson said. "That's what I told him. 'You're getting the ice time.' He plays more minutes than any one of our forwards. We're not singling him out or anything like that. He's not scoring; we're trying to shake things up a little bit to put him with other people who've been successful over the last month.

"If you just become totally one-dimensional, you can easily be shut down in this league. If you're just trying to score off the rush, if you're just taking the same shot all the time, all of these things that we talked about. Phil's just got to relax. I told him to relax. We don't have any issues."

Kessel said he was aware that when he was traded to Toronto in the fall of 2009 that the media attention would be overwhelming at times, but that he was prepared to deal with that as it comes.

"I love it here, like I said before," Kessel said. "I love being here. I want to be a Toronto Maple Leaf forever. I love it. This [attention] is a big part of it here. Obviously. I know I don't talk to you guys that often, but I talk enough, right?"

With that, Kessel slowly walked out of the dressing room, pursued by a couple reporters with questions that went unanswered.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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