Phil Kessel is in the news. Not because he’s playing in the World Cup of Hockey, but because he was left out. His tweet on Tuesday following Team USA’s 4-2 loss to Canada and subsequent elimination put a spotlight on the fact that he was left off the USA roster.
I, like most American fans, loved the tweet. I said, “You know what Phil. You’re right. You should have been there.” But the tweet itself is also further evidence why Team USA coach John Tortorella and team management decided to leave Kessel off the roster.
John Tortorella and Team USA management set out to build a team that could compete with Canada. They wanted to assembled a roster that would play as a team, for their country. Unity was an idea that Tortorella stressed. Before the tournament began, responding to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem, Tortorella said, “If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.”
For Tortorella, the tournament was more than just about hockey. It was about representing Team USA, the United States of America.
Tortorella wanted players who could possibly give Team Canada a different look — a heavy, grind-it-out defensively look. We can certainly debate the merits of that approach, and of course, it didn’t quite work out for Team USA in the World Cup. They were shut out by Team Europe in game one and managed only two goals against Canada in their second game while giving up a total of seven in those games.
Looking back, they could have used some more goal scorers.
Phil Kessel is a goal scorer. He probably should have been on the roster. He is probably the best American offensive weapon not named Patrick Kane. That is not for debate here. Phil Kessel also has a reputation. He has a reputation of being lazy. He has a reputation of coming into camp out of shape. He has a reputation of not being a team player. He has a reputation of not playing defense. They may be true. They may not be, but his tweet may have given some insight to one aspect.
Let one thing be clear. That tweet was about one thing: Phil Kessel. He made it about himself when he could have been consoling ex-teammates. Phil Kessel was Team USA teammates with 14 members of the current World Cup roster at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Today, Team USA players have questioned whether Kessel was tweeting about them.
David Backes had the harshest words for Kessel, “As a team guy and as a guy that stands by my teammates, win lose or draw, it’s a little distasteful and aggravating.”
I have no doubt that Kessel did not deliberately call out his former Team USA teammates. He was poking at John Tortorella and team management, but that does not mean that some of his teammates did not take it personally. Clearly Backes did.
“Everyone can have their opinion. They can say what they want to say,” Zach Parise, another Sochi teammate of Kessel, said, “We were here, we played hard. We came up short.”
Derek Stepan added, “I certainly hope it wasn’t out of disrespect…I don’t think anyone thought it was funny.”
Kessel has freedom of speech. He can say whatever he wants, but that doesn’t guarantee that his words won’t be interpreted or misinterpreted by others. And it doesn’t mean there won’t be unintended consequences. In this case it means his ex-teammates, people who know him, getting hurt.
Maybe Kessel was trying to say that if he was there, things would have been different. He surely would have been a better choice than some others on the team. But that tweet is not how a team-first guy reacts. A team-first guy would have considered that though the tweet might feel good in the moment, it might also offend his sometime teammates.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter what Kessel meant. If he were a team-first player, he would have known not to say something that could be taken the wrong way, especially for his third tweet of the year.
The tweet and the response gave Kessel exactly what he wanted last night: validation. People said, “You know what Phil. You’re right. You should have been there.” Yes, he should have been there. But even when you’re right, you can still be wrong.
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