Phil Kessel: The True Story
Imagine, if you will, Brian Burke sitting at his desk in the MLSE offices today. Any GM
of the Leafs is no doubt a busy man, but Burkie’s recently been a bit busier than most. On top of the usual day to day stuff, he’s still dealing with some of the remnants left behind by the previous occupant of the office: emptying the crayons from the top drawer in the desk, tossing out the half-finished Word Jumbles and comic books scattered throughout the office and executive bathroom, and (most labour intensive of all) scrubbing the yellow highlighter off the computer screen.
Imagine that as Burke is attending to these various tasks, shuffling things about on the managerial desk, he finds a dented and scratched old coffee can that’s filled with a bunch of dust. The magic marker/masking tape label has long ago faded and is now illegible. What Burkie can’t know is that the battered tin, a relic from days gone by, contains the ashes of a deceased player – unceremoniously stored there years ago after the player’s cremation by a skinflint owner determined to economize wherever possible .
Seeing the tin, Burke is puzzled. He feels sure he would have noticed the disfigured canister on his desk before, but he has not. He picks it up to examine it, and as he does so, it tumbles from his hands to the floor. A pile of dust spills on to the plush blue carpet; there is a flash of light and a puff of smoke. Burke rubs his eyes in disbelief and stares at the apparition that now stands before him in the office.
Something very rare and incredible has happened: Brian Burke is speechless.
Slightly less unusually, the ghost of a hockey player dead for more than 23 years has spontaneously appeared in a downtown Toronto office building wearing full equipment and a period uniform.
The ghost appears as he did on the night of March 17, 1934: wearing a bright green sweater with a large shamrock emblazoned across the back where his trademark number 7 ordinarily appeared. He is carrying a stick and wearing skates. He is pale and very obviously dead.
GHOST: Greetings, Mr. Burke. I (dramatic pause) am…
BURKE: (recovering his senses) Great, another stick-wielding zombie in my office. Look, I told Chris Chelios just a couple days ago, we’re not looking for any undead players at this time..
GHOST: Silence! Speak not, mortal.
BURKE: (rising from his chair) What the hell? Listen pal, nobody talks to me like that, and certainly not in my office.
GHOST: …but…but…look, I said “silence.” That’s supposed to shut you up; it’s the first thing they teach you in haunting class.
BURKE: Yeah, well I guess I was away that day. Say, aren’t you….?
GHOST: Yes, I am. King Clancy, Mr. Burke.
BURKE: (Stands staring at the ghost, unblinking)
CLANCY: (Stares back, clears throat)
BURKE: (Continues to stare)
CLANCY: (Shuffles feet, finally shrugs and raises his palms.) What?
BURKE: Well? Isn’t this the part where you tell me why you’ve appeared, little fella?
CLANCY: Look, I’m the apparition here, I’m supposed to control this encounter. Must you be in charge of everything?
BURKE: (still staring)
CLANCY: (under his breath, with resignation) Fine. (Raising his voice, Clancy gestures in the air with his stick as he speaks dramatically) In 1986 when I passed away, my mortal remains were imprisoned in that outrageous receptacle by that backstabbing cheapskate so-called friend of mine who used to own the team. With my corporeal remnants consigned to ignominy by that mean-spirited prick of an owner, my spirit could not rest…
BURKE: You’ll have to move this along, buddy. I’m trying to get my desk cleaned up so I can call Chiarelli back. I don’t know if you get the Internet where you come from, but I’m working on a trade for this guy named Phil Kessel….
CLANCY: …three wishes. You get three wishes for freeing my tortured soul.
BURKE: Three wishes, eh? Hey, lucky me. Can’t believe I was fortunate enough to be the first to set you free…
CLANCY: Oh, first shmirst. Ferguson knocked the can over daily when he was here. When I told him I was King Clancy, he wanted to know what country I “owned” and whether I could help him find his shoes; he was wearing them at the time. I explained that I was a ghost; he told me he is a Libra. He is not a Libra. I tried to raise the subject of the three wishes a bunch of times but he kept getting distracted by the voicemail light flashing on his telephone or a Garfield cartoon. One day I found him just sitting and staring at an orange juice container; I asked him why, and he told me the package said “concentrate.” As you can probably imagine, it took several years for us to get to the actual wish-making/granting phase. When I told him I was going to grant him three wishes, he asked me for (1) a cookie; (2) another cookie; and (3) some Leafs tickets. On that 3rd one, I explained to him that he was the General Manager of the Leafs and that he didn’t need tickets to get into the games. I gave him one more wish. He wished that he could perform his duties competently, but some things are beyond even my otherworldly powers, so I arranged things for Peddie to fire his ass and just climbed back in the can.
BURKE: That does kind of help explain some things around here (shuffles cancelled cheque made out to “Andrew Raycroft” to one side of desk). Three wishes, eh? Hmmm, let me think for a second. Do I have to tell you the wish?
CLANCY: It will suffice, oh truculent one, if you merely concentrate upon the object of your desire.
BURKE: You use a lot of pretty flowery language for a guy who turned pro at 17. Can’t imagine you spent a lot of time in school as a kid, King. What gives?
CLANCY: (sighs) I’m dead, Brian. We have a duty to be dramatic when we speak. Just make your first wish.
BURKE: Hmmm. What do I really……really….want?
(Far across the country, Kevin Lowe’s genitalia spontaneously detach from his torso and fall to the floor.)
CLANCY: There you go, first wish granted. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
BURKE: Are you talking about the wish, or…
CLANCY: Mind out of the gutter, Brian. Second wish?
BURKE: Can I just wish for more wishes, or for my team to win the Cup?
CLANCY: Are you familiar with the concept of a monkey’s paw?
CLANCY: Well, let’s put it this way: I don’t have the paws of a monkey, exactly, but you don’t want to be messing with 75-year old sweat-sopped hockey gloves that have been worn by a corpse for a couple of decades.
BURKE: I did notice a bit of a smell in here….
CLANCY: No, no, that was Nonis. He’s been eating chili-dogs at Burkie’s Dog House every morning, then coming in here to float a couple of trouser coughs before you get back from lunch. I think he’s pissed he doesn’t have a concession stand named after him. He mutters under his breath a lot about the trade for Roberto Luongo while he’s letting them fly in here.
BURKE: Son of a bitch! Are you telling me my assistant has been surreptitiously farting in my office?
CLANCY: That’s nothing; more than one person has peed in the coffemaker in Richard Peddie’s office.
BURKE: Yeah, I do that all the time.
CLANCY: Brian, everybody else does it when Richard’s NOT in the room.
CLANCY: Clearly, we digress. Your second wish?
BURKE: Well, I guess I should use the remaining wishes to achieve some success around here. Let me see…how could I do that?
CLANCY: Well, Feschuk and Grange suggest that the team would improve if Leaf fans just stopped coming to the games.
BURKE: (laughing) Idiots!
CLANCY: (laughing) Yeah!
(They double over in hysterics, clapping each other on the back and stomping their feet on the floor. After a time, they dry their tears and resume their conversation.)
BURKE: Okay, okay. My second wish is “for the Maple Leafs to be a much better team.”
CLANCY: (sighing) Alright. Jamal Mayers has been waived.
BURKE: That’s it?
CLANCY: Seriously, have you never seen an episode of the Twilight Zone? You can’t just make broad, sweeping and general wishes like that, or I – as a ghostly apparition – have a moral duty to grant your wish in a way that achieves your objective, but still screws you.
BURKE: How does waiving Mayers screw me?
CLANCY: I could have chosen Stempniak instead; he’s still on the team.
CLANCY: Never mind. Look, make a third wish, will you….but do it carefully. Phrase your wish carefully, with appropriate qualifiying language, or I have to screw you.
BURKE: (makes chin-rubbing gestures and thinking sounds) Okay. Here it is. I wanna draft an elite scoring talent, a top-6 kind of prospect to our team; I want him to be a top 5 draft selection, but I want him to play for us right now, this year – and I don’t want to lose any players from our current roster.
CLANCY: All right – done. Get Peter Chiarelli on the phone, he’s going to offer you Phil Kessel for your 1st round picks in 2010 and 2011, and your second rounder in 2010. You’re going to take the deal. Wish granted.
BURKE: But that’s exactly the transaction I was talking about with Chiarelli! I was hesitating a bit, because you know on the one hand, Kessel’s only 21 and he’s shown a ton of offensive upside, the kind of young talent that isn’t commonly available on the open market. On the other hand, though, I was reading this Internet site – this Pension Plan Puppets, and there was this guy who goes by the name mf37 who had me all wrapped around the axle about this. Jesus Christ, I nearly crapped my pants when I read this:
CLANCY: Yeah, I saw that. Scary stuff.
BURKE: Scary? You’re a zombie!
BURKE: Anyway, I was really torn about whether to do this deal. The way I look at it, getting a young guy like Kessel is kind of like taking next year’s draft pick and putting him on the team now- he’s youthful enough to still count as a prospect. So it’s almost like you’re not really surrendering a first round pick, so much as taking next year’s pick now. But draft picks, even first rounders, don’t always pan out. So you have to ask yourself, essentially, is it worth giving up a 1st round pick, and a second rounder too, basically in order to buy some certainty that the guy you selected is capable of playing and scoring in this league. Kind of like an insurance policy. Is that insurance worth that additional first and second round pick?
CLANCY: Don’t forget about the third rounder you gave up to make this deal possible in the first place.
BURKE: (burps nervously) Fucking mf37! That guy is gonna give me a heart attack, I swear. Christ, I’m ready to take up the pitchforks and torches after me, reading shit like that. Rob fucking Brown, King!
CLANCY: Yeah. Well, it’s academic now. You’ve got your wish – the Leafs’ first rounder in 2010 is a 21 year old Phil Kessel. He scored 36 goals last year and he’s the kind of young, elite scoring prospect that the Leafs haven’t had in the lineup since – well, I don’t wanna say it was back when I was playing, but it was pretty freaking close. You know that the kid can play in this league, and the price you’ve paid for that certainty is a first, second, and third round pick. You haven’t lost any players from your current roster, so your team has to be considerably improved. Assuming you get any kind of goaltending in the next couple of years, you should be well positioned – with a couple of judicious additions here and there (and a little bit of luck in terms of the development of your other youngsters) to open a window in which you will be competitive for the Stanley Cup. Of course, the draft picks you gave up could turn out to come back to haunt you – there are three chances that somebody else is gonna draft the 2015 league MVP on your dime.
BURKE: Yeah, that’s pretty much the way it is.
CLANCY: You gotta take some risks to get a reward, right? You know, back in my day, I was the shit; I was playing for Ottawa when Conn Smythe bet a crapload of money on a race horse – at 200-1 odds - and he won the bet. He used his winnings to buy my contract. 200-1 odds! Now that’s a risk.
BURKE: Gimme a break. Seriously, what are the chances that race wasn’t fixed?
CLANCY: Fixed?!? Scandal! Opprobrium!
BURKE: There you go with your dead guy words again. So this Kessel trade is a done deal now?
CLANCY: Yeah. Pick up the phone. Chiarelli is faxing you the papers right now.
BURKE: (pause) So, straight up, King. Did you screw me over Monkey’s Paw style or no?
CLANCY: (Smiles…and slowly dissolves.)
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