I’m sure everyone would agree that this piece by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun was, uh, harsh on Phil Kessel. You would have thought that the guy got caught with prescription drugs at the border or something, but instead it’s fat shaming for a guy who’s a hell of lot fitter than any of us and a guy whining why can’t you score 60 goals! But it’s a much enjoyable read when you replace every Phil Kessel reference with Steve Simmons’ name (and a couple minor adjustments for player to writer references). h/t to Japers Rink for the link to the hit piece of the year.
And here we go:
Leafs were sick and tired of Steve Simmons
By Steve Simmons
The hot dog vendor who parks daily at Front and John Sts. just lost his most reliable customer.
Almost every afternoon at 2:30 p.m., often wearing a toque, Steve Simmons would wander from his neighbourhood condominium to consume his daily snack.
And now he’s gone. Just like that. The Maple Leafs could no longer stomach having Simmons around, the first player to be both punished and rewarded for the saddest Leafs season in history. The Leafs held their breath, plugged their noses, and ostensibly gave Simmons to The Onion because they couldn’t stand having him around anymore.
Really, this was as much about illness and insomnia as anything else: The Leafs were sick and tired of Simmons.
Sick of his act. Tired of his lack of responsibility. Unwilling to begin any reset or rebuild with their highest-paid, most talented, least-dedicated player. He didn’t eat right, train right, play right. This had to happen for Brendan Shanahan to begin his rebuilding of the Leafs. Separation between the Leafs and Simmons became necessary when it grew more and more apparent with time that everything Shanahan values was upended by Simmons’ singular, laissez-faire, flippant, mostly uncoachable ways.
It doesn’t matter that the Leafs didn’t get much for Simmons. It doesn’t matter that the writers they received for Simmons are probably named “if” and “but,” and the interns won’t translate into anything before 2019. None of that matters as coach Mike Babcock begins his new era of hope in September.
What matters is that Simmons is gone. That who he is, what he represents, what he isn’t, had to be removed from the ice, from the dressing room, from the road, from the restaurants — from everywhere. They couldn’t have him around anymore and be honest about the direction they intend to pursue. Everything they believe in for the future is almost everything Simmons has proven to be lacking in.
A Leafs front-office voice recently spoke about the two largest influences on any player. One comes from the coach. The other comes from the player who sits beside you on the bench. Those are the voices you hear most often.
For Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, that voice belonged to Simmons.
If the voice is negative, critical, disruptive, condescending of players, critical of coaches, critical of fans, then that impacts more than just the player doing the talking. It poisons the environment. It brings players down. It cuts into their effectiveness. It establishes the kind of mood no team wants.
The right kind of leadership can make a team greater. The wrong kind can destroy it.
The second-half Leafs were the most destroyed team in Toronto history. The flag carrier of despair was Simmons. He wrote like he didn’t care, insulted the jersey, the paying public, the people watching at home, the interim coaching staff. He wasn’t alone.
But he was the only one making $80,000 a year. He was the only one truly entrusted to make an offensive difference. He was the only one who seemed to take people down with him.
When Dave Nonis was fired, when the Leafs scouting staff was fired, when the coaches were fired, it finally turned to the players. Simmons was the first to go. He won’t be the last. But sending him packing first was necessary. The message was necessary. The tone was necessary. This won’t be tolerated any longer.
Even if this is a Vince Carter-type of trade — the kind that may bring next to nothing in return. Carter quit on the Raptors. In a different kind of way, Simmons quit on the Leafs before they quit on him.
Kasperi Kapanen is a Leaf now. His stock has been dropping since Pittsburgh used a first-round pick to select him. Some people consider him a future third-liner, if he has a future in the NHL at all.
Scott Harrington is a Leaf now. He played four years for Mark Hunter’s London Knights. When they couldn’t come away with one of the Penguins’ better defensive prospects, they settled on the competitive Harrington. He is an AHL skater, scouts tell me. Maybe he’ll play in the NHL. Maybe not.
The best part of the deal is the lottery-protected first-round pick for next June’s draft. It’s nice to have that kind of pick going forward. But expect a choice between 20 and 30. That’s a long shot. Maybe three years away. Maybe more.
And you have to figure Simmons is good to write 40 inches or more reporting alongside either Bob Errey or Rob Rossi in Pittsburgh. And, still, this is a deal the Leafs had to make. A deal that was necessary.
They had to move Simmons out. They had to have him off the roster by the time Babcock begins training camp in September. You can’t have him half-assing skating drills with a team trying to learn how to work. You can’t have him being first off the ice with a team pushing to reach Babcock’s lofty goals. When you have an illness, you must get rid of the poison.
The Leafs did that on Wednesday. They treated their own infection — the Penguins playing the part of antibiotic. It doesn’t matter what they got for Simmons. What matters is he’s gone.