On Thursday, head coach Randy Carlyle was in damage-control mode after a report suggested new Maple Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott had questioned Kessel’s willingness to be coached.
And on Friday, Carlyle dropped Kessel’s name, saying he would consider splitting up the right-winger and James van Riemsdyk, who patrolled the left side much of last season, on Toronto’s top forward line.
It’s an option should the coach need to create balanced scoring and projected second-line wingers JoffreyLupul and David Clarkson can’t stay healthy or provide offensive production, respectively.
“I remember when Lupul, Kessel and [centre Tyler] Bozak were the top scoring line for the first 40 games before I got here [in March 2012],” Carlyle, the former Anaheim Ducks bench boss, told reporters Friday.
“We played them in Anaheim, and they kicked our but. You remember that.”
Carlyle has previously tinkered with Toronto’s No. 1 unit, at times because of injury. Last November, with Bozak sidelined with a hamstring injury, van Riemsdyk centred Lupul and Kessel.
Later that month, centre/winger Nazem Kadri found himself between Kessel and JVR. In April 2013, Kadri and Kessel showed the Maple Leafs coaching staff and fans they had some on-ice chemistry but that pairing was short-lived.
And it's not as though the Kessel/van Riemsdyk tandem hasn't had its struggles. To end the 2013-14 regular season, van Riemsdyk went 26 consecutive games with a power-play point, while Kessel had one power-play point over the final 25 contests.
This past off-season, Toronto general manager Dave Nonis added some players many believe would fill a wing spot on the team’s checking units, including David Booth and Matt Frattin.
But could Booth, should he manage to stay healthy – he’s missed at least 20 games in two of the past three seasons – be a potential fit on the left side with Bozak and Kessel?
Remember, he did score 31 goals and 60 points in 72 games during the 2008-09 season with the Florida Panthers. However, he has followed that performance with point totals of 16, 40, 30, three (he only played 12 times in the 2013 lockout-shortened season) and 19.
It’s your turn to make like Nonis and Carlyle and decide which player you would have skate alongside Kessel and Bozak should the team feel the need to shake things up.
Vote in the poll above and tell us below who you believe would flourish on the left side of the No. 1 line if given the opportunity.