Sometimes you have to step back and ponder the profound absurdity of it all.
The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their training camp on Thursday morning, and Day 1 is typically a pretty tame affair. Players get physicals, have their pictures taken, do a couple perfunctory interviews and go home in street clothes and fancy cars.
Not in Toronto.
It certainly felt as if the off-season had been building to this day, with mini-controversies and mixed messages surrounding the organization. Every little blip, burp and fart from the Leafs gets blown up big, whether it's from MLSE president Tim Leiweke or new assistant coach Steve Spott.
They both made off-hand comments to a somewhat private audience that became news in recent days. Leiweke, who assailed some unknown player or players for a lack of character in a chat at Ryerson University, claimed later he meant no one in particular.
Spott, who reportedly described a disagreement over a breakout scheme with star Phil Kessel to a coaching clinic, explained it was all a big misunderstanding.
Another day, another fire – real or imagined.
So it was that training camp opened with one question after another about Kessel's relationship with the coaching staff and his coachability, first to general manager Dave Nonis, then coach Randy Carlyle, then Kessel and finally Spott.
Nothing to see here, they said. Mostly.
Kessel, meanwhile, was more interested in discussing what he actually did in the off-season: fishing and golfing (and not a whole lot of systems analysis).
"We caught, like, an 11-foot shark," he said of his exploits with linemate Tyler Bozak down in Florida. "That was a big one – 450-pounder. That's a big fish."
The Leafs are lucky in a lot of ways with Kessel. He appears completely impervious to the type of nitpicking the stars get in Toronto, either avoiding the attention altogether or laughing it off as he did on Thursday.
He even willingly served up a provocative nugget for down the road, revealing he only skated "10 times maybe" all off-season – a quote that will surely be served back up by his critics whenever his next goal drought is.
Missed in all of it, however, is the fact that of the 64 players at camp, Kessel might well be 64th on the list of organizational problems. He's one of only two NHL players (along with Alex Ovechkin) who have scored at a 32-goal (or better) pace the past six seasons, displaying remarkable consistency despite often poor linemates and even poorer decision-making from those above him.
By any reasoning, Kessel has become all Toronto could have hoped for when they traded for him five years ago. No, he's not Sidney Crosby, but the flaws in his game are also – predictably – the same ones he had when they acquired him.
He's got better – and he brings the kind of unteachable elite talent this team needs more of.
Because of all the losses and because he's an easy (and often mute) target, however, he gets dumped on.
The Leafs' real issues are actually much higher up the food chain. You can start with a divided ownership group that never made sense to begin with, where two huge corporate rivals are lumped together in a toxic marriage with minority partner Larry Tanenbaum.
Then you have a chief executive officer in Leiweke who has one foot out the door and the other in his mouth.
There's a general manager who isn't really the GM and who lost his lieutenants after they collectively made too many blunders.
There's a coach in much the same (but even more dire) situation.
There's still no No. 1 centre. Arguably no No. 1 defenceman, either.
It's likely they will miss the playoffs again.
It's messy. It's the Leafs. And very little of it, frankly, is Kessel's fault, save for the fact he chose to sign an eight-year deal to stay in the nuthouse a while longer.
"It just comes with the job, right?" he said of the faux controversies that bubble up from time to time. "I love Toronto, to be honest … I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
And he is being honest, as usual. For now, he wants to be a Leaf, have these debates with the coaching staff about how to play, help put out the media fires and try to turn things around.
That's a positive far more than a negative, even if it gets lost in the noise.
Welcome to Day 1. On to the next one.