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Leafs deny rift between Kessel and coaching staff

Phil Kessel

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel skates off the ice after Toronto was defeated 1-0 by the Ottawa Senators in NHL hockey game action in Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fred Chartrand)


Another day, another fire to put out in Toronto.

This time, it’s related to a story in the Toronto Star that suggested Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel did not see eye-to-eye with his coaching staff and, in fact, “hates coaches.”

According to the story -- which relied on quotes from three unnamed minor-hockey coaches -- new Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott was a speaker at a coaching clinic last month, where, among other things, he said that Kessel had refused to adhere to the team’s new breakout play.

From the story:

“Spotter said that when he went to Phil (with the breakout play), Phil said, I’m not doing it,” said one of the attendees, a former professional player.

Said another: “Spott was saying (that) these are the things I’ve got to deal with now that I’ve never had to deal with. In the AHL (where Spott coached last season with the Toronto Marlies), when you’re the coach what you say goes. Whereas now that I’m here (in the NHL), I’ve got a guy telling me: No. I’m not going to do that.”

Oh, and there was this, too:

Spott also marveled at how Kessel — who Spott estimated during the lecture is “15 pounds overweight” — remains an explosive speedster.

Predictably, Leafs GM Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle were asked about the story today. And just as predictably, both of them shrugged it off:

Ditto for Kessel:

Still, all this comes less than a week after outgoing MLSE president Tim Leiweke remarked on the “just terrible” character of certain players in the Leafs organization -- a comment that many deduced was directed at Kessel, though Leiweke refuted the notion he was singling out any specific player.

What’s interesting, besides the actual remarks (or purported remarks, in Spott’s case), is that both stories have one thing in common -- people making comments in a setting where they didn’t intend their words to be picked up by the media. Leiweke was speaking to a classroom of business students, while Spott, as mentioned, was at a coaching clinic.

It’s almost like you have to be careful what you say in a hockey-mad market like Toronto.

The Leafs kick off their preseason schedule Monday in Philadelphia.