It’s not an easy time to be a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fresh off an NHL trade deadline day where seemingly every roster player was rumoured to be available, Phil Kessel was looking to get something off his chest.
Kessel told assembled media in Sunrise, Florida ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with the Panthers that he’s had enough of the media finger-pointing at captain Dion Phaneuf for the Maple Leafs’ continued struggles.
“I’m disappointed today,” Kessel said. “I think the way the media treats Dion Phaneuf in this city is embarrassing. A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. I’m embarrassed for them. I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated like that.”
Sportsnet reporter Shawn MacKenzie was on the scene and noted that Kessel was not asked specifically about Phaneuf. The winger was clearly frustrated and took the opportunity to unload.
Kessel was asked to specify with regards to his comments.
"Just in general," he told reporters. "I think you guys unfairly criticize Dion. He's our best defenceman and you guys act like he's not trying out there."
Both Phaneuf and Kessel have come under fire this season while the Maple Leafs have slid down the standings since a 10-1-1 hot stretch came to halt midway through December.
Kessel, who has just five goals since January 1, has been oft-mentioned as a player the Maple Leafs could look to move as part of a 'scorched-earth' rebuild plan. Phaneuf was linked to trade talks with the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, but nothing materialized amid reports that the Maple Leafs' asking price for its captain was too high.
The Maple Leafs will look to snap a mini two-game slide as they face the Panthers, winners of two straight, tonight at the BB&T Center.