In writing a critique of former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons shows how his own work comes up short.
Hours after Phil Kessel—by far the most talented forward to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs since Mats Sundin—was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons decided he needed to hit the all-star with the door as the talented scorer was on his way out. The lede in his July 2 column went like this:
The hot dog vendor who parks daily at Front and John Sts. just lost his most reliable customer. Almost every day at 2:30 p.m., often wearing a toque, Phil Kessel would wander form his neighbourhood condominium to consume his daily snack.
Simmons’ anecdote plays on a common narrative about Kessel: that the chubby-cheeked winger is out of shape, lazy, and lacks the willingness to change his attitude. Despite his all-star status and elite scoring numbers, the criticism goes, he doesn’t take his health and conditioning seriously. Kessel may be a good player, but he is one with bad character, and you can’t have that on your team. If there’s anything that pundits like Simmons value, it’s hard work and integrity.
But here’s the problem: Simmons fails to exhibit these qualities in his own work. In fact, the hot dog anecdote doesn’t just represent poor judgment from a veteran columnist who should know better, but it may be completely false.
Despite Simmons’ claims, no one working the four hot dog stands at Front and John who Torontoist spoke to on Tuesday can recall ever selling street meat to the star forward. Rojin, working at the Don Juan’s food truck, says many famous people stop by for a snack. Perhaps one of the vendors have sold a hotdog to Kessel, she said, but it was not a regular or memorable occurrence.
Even if Kessel did buy a hotdog to eat every day, he would not likely pick it up from any of the vendors at Front and John, because, despite what Simmons writes, he almost certainly does not live there. The good people at SB Nation’s Pension Plan Puppets did some digging and based on the skyline visible from Kessel’s apartment in footage from HBO’s 24/7: Leafs/Red Wings as well as a simple look in the phonebook, it seems he lived in a condo close to Bay and College.
In order to obtain a hot dog at Front and John from his home—and we are not sure what makes hot dogs at this location, which is by the Rogers Centre and not Air Canada Centre, special—Kessel would’ve had to walk 2.5 kilometres. From the Air Canada Centre, the distance is 1 kilometre, and from the Leafs practice facility in Etobicoke, it is 13.1 kilometres.
The fact that the city’s former most famous hockey player wasn’t a memorable customer for nearby hot dog vendors, as well as the fact that the only “P Kessel” in the phonebook lives at an address that matches the setting shown on an internationally broadcast reality television program, suggests Simmons may not have his facts lined up.
Really though, it doesn’t even matter whether or not Phil Kessel ate a daily hotdog because it is just a petty and narrow-minded approach to evaluating him as a player and person. He was the fittest roster player at training camp last fall, he was one of the fastest skaters at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in January, he hasn’t missed a game for injury since 2009, and he remains one of hockey’s most elite scoring talents with the eighth-most goals over the last five seasons.
Despite moving on to Pittsburgh, Kessel remains one of the best goal-scorers in hockey and someone that did everything he could to make his time in Toronto a success. The Leafs’ failures in that time were beyond his control. Steve Simmons could have written about any of the larger reasons why the Kessel-era Maple Leafs were a failure. Instead he chose to make a fat joke—a seemingly inaccurate one at that—and it says more about Steve Simmons than it does about Phil Kessel.