The Americans were mathematically eliminated from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on Tuesday night after Team Canada defeated them 4-2. Phil Kessel, a notable player not invited to Team USA’s training camp, seemed to be feeling some shameful joy after hearing about the result. He took to Twitter and issued a now famous tweet that has been taken as a reference to the fact that he wasn’t named to the team.
“Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
So what’s the important thing that Kessel should have been doing? Helping to defeat Team Canada at the World Cup? Who in particular was he making the comment to? Team USA management? More importantly, why couldn’t he put his finger on what he had to do? Because of botched hand surgery?
Kessel’s disappointment at not making Team USA is understandable. However, why he seems to feel so affronted by not being invited to training camp is still perplexing. Kessel had off-season hand surgery that was reported on in July at NHL.com. Recent surgery of any kind would make even a player better than Kessel, a risky pick for a national team.
For someone charged with composing a team, the issue of player fitness/health is of major importance. If you take a recently-maligned player, and then he can’t play, you lose the roster spot. In that situation, you would be better with anyone else that might have been among the list of candidates, even a bench-warmer. That Kessel had recent surgery is a very fair reason not to take him.
But even if Kessel didn’t have the recent surgery on his medical record, simply put he’s not a good enough player to be tweeting like he would have made all the difference. Among players that played at least 40 games last season, Kessel was 70th in points per game. He scored a lot in Pittsburgh’s successful Stanley Cup run but credit a big part of that to the attention that the better players on the team attracted their way in freeing Kessel up.
Kessel’s snubbing doesn’t rank anywhere near the snubs that have been dished out in international hockey tournaments in the past. In fact, we can look at two major historical snubs that practically gave Team USA their title at the 1996 World Cup.
Glen Sather, who was GM of the Edmonton Oilers, snubbed Patrick Roy in favor of the Oilers’ goalie at the time, Curtis Joseph. Furthermore, in 1986 Team Canada snubbed dual-citizen Brett Hull. The future Hall of Famer then exercised his option to play for the States from that point onward. In the 1996 tournament, Hull crushed the country that he formerly wanted to play for en route to being the top scorer in the event.
There are a lot of snubs that are worth mentioning, like Sidney Crosby not being a part of the 2006 Olympics. But Kessel getting snubbed isn’t really that big of a snubbing in comparison. If any of the notable snubs from international teams were in a similar situation, then it would have been a major argument in favor of not taking them as well. That is especially the case when there are no games to evaluate the player on between the surgery and the target tournament.
Kessel seems to be taking satisfaction in seeing Team USA lose, and I think he’s out of line for it. It’s not like he was a healthy scratch, he was a question mark. Even as recently as late August, Kessel was questionable for the start of the NHL season. Penguins’ GM Jim Rutherford said as much to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“At this point, based on where he’s tracking, yes (Kessel would start the season),” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette. “But with surgery like that, you can’t say 100 per cent for sure. Even if it’s not for the start of the season, it wouldn’t be that much time.”
If he’s not 100% for mid-October then how could Team USA take him for mid-September?