Apprenticeships in a Demanding Market
They are two stories from two different sports about two young people from two different countries.
Yet in some way, the circumstances are the same.
Both Phil Kessel and Alex Anthopolous have, by combination of their own choice and the decisions of others, been thrust into situations for which they aren't quite ready.
For the 22-year-old Kessel, it's to be a franchise player for the Maple Leafs. For the 32-year-old Anthopolous, its to run the baseball operations of the Blue Jays.
In today's Star, the pitfalls for both are reported on in pieces by Paul Hunter and Rich Griffin. Griffin highlights Anthopolous's efforts at his first ever winter meetings as he tries to not only take over from J.P. Ricciardi, but set a new tone for the franchise.
To me, he's reminiscent of John Ferguson Jr. when he took over the Leafs. He even has a quickee nickname as Ferguson did. Fergie was JFJ, while Anthopolous is Double-A, not exactly a comfy nickname for a baseball man.
Anthopolous is young, eager, hardworking, wildly inexperienced and very unsure of how to handle the Toronto media, which, as it was for Ferguson, could be a ticking time bomb.
Cutting guys off is okay if you win. But if you don't, you'll have no friends when you need 'em.
All that said, the good news is that Anthopolous isn't a finished product. He has time to learn. He has time to figure it out.
Kessel, meanwhile, again underperformed last night in a visit to his former hockey home of Boston. He was better, but not good enough, and the Leafs went down to defeat.
In some ways, Kessel right now is reminiscent of a young Mats Sundin, who, during his early days in Quebec City and then Toronto, was viewed as marvelously talented but unable to rise to the moment and compete harder when the environment became nastier.
Sundin ultimately conquered that and became a solid playoff warrior, but it took time.
But what people forget is that the Leafs didn't acquire a finished product when they traded for Kessel. They acquired a player with exciting offensive talent who has scored some goals in the league but has yet to prove he can grind it out when the compete level of everyone goes up.
That's okay. He has time to learn. He has time to figure it out. If this trade ultimately works out, it will be because Kessel improves as a player, not because he's all he can be right now.
The Leafs might want him to be a star, but at 22, he's at an age when only the truly exceptional - like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin - are prepared to walk among the league's elite every night.
Everyone should understand that the plan for Kessel should be that he's really hitting his stride two or three seasons down the line.