Regrets? Phil Kessel has a few. But, like Frank Sinatra said, too few to mention.
“I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do in a situation like that,” the Toronto Maple Leafs winger said Wednesday, about drawing a suspension for flaying Buffalo Sabres enforcer John Scott with his stick. “Obviously, I didn’t handle it the best way, but I don’t know what else you can really do.”
What Kessel did was give Scott a couple of whacks on the legs with his stick when the 6-foot-8, 270-pounder came after him in the third period of a preseason game last Sunday. This set off a brawl that involved every player on the ice. When Kessel was out of danger, he spun around and gave Scott another whack.
That last move prompted NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan to suspend Kessel for the Leafs’ final three preseason games (which started with Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre).
Kessel allowed he did regret landing the last couple of blows but challenged the critics who second-guessed his stickwork.
“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.
“Things happen so quick out there. You can slow it down and it makes it look like it’s worse, but I shouldn’t have done the second whack. It happens, but things happen so quick out there that you react. Obviously, I shouldn’t have done [it].”
Kessel said he wasn’t happy about being suspended, but since it’s well-known NHL veterans do not regard most exhibition games with affection, he didn’t push the matter.
“Well, obviously, I got three preseason games, and I’m happy there’s no regular-season games,” he said.
Kessel got off easy compared to teammate David Clarkson. The latter received an automatic 10-game suspension in the regular season for coming off the players’ bench to join the fight. He also forfeits about $269,000 (U.S.) in salary.
Since Kessel is suspended for only the preseason, it won’t cost him any money and the Leafs will still have their best goal-scorer available to start the season.
“[Clarkson] was sticking up for me, and I appreciate that,” Kessel said. “It’s a tough situation. I don’t know if you guys have seen anything like that happen before, but it’s tough. Losing a guy like Clarky for 10 games, he’s a great player for us and everyone’s going to have to step up and contribute.”
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said, with a nasty grin, he will make sure Kessel practises hard so he stays in shape for the opening of the regular season on Oct. 1.
“When he says that, it’s probably going to be hard,” Kessel said. “I’m not necessarily looking forward to his bag skates.”
This has been quite a training camp for Kessel. In a preseason game on Sept. 16 against the Philadelphia Flyers, he was tagged with a few stick penalties, including one for slashing his friend and former teammate Luke Schenn, who set him off with a punch in the mouth.
“It’s tough because guys are fighting – obviously, I know Luke, right?” Kessel said. “He gave me a shot. We talked after the game. Guys are trying to make a name for themselves, they’re trying to get noticed.
“When you feel like you’re just trying to get in to the game and stuff like that happens, you’re not that happy about it. But it happened and you’ve got to move on.”
Kessel, who has not posted more than 28 minutes in penalties in any of his seven NHL seasons, does not think this spate of stick infractions will make him a marked man for the referees.
“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.”
What could be a problem some time between now and next summer is a new contract. His current deal expires July 1 and as a consistent 30-goal scorer, Kessel will likely demand at least $7-million a year on a long-term contract.
“I’m not really worried about it,” he said, as negotiations have not started. “Nothing’s happening and we move on, right?”