The Pittsburgh Penguins’ general manager finally assured Pittsburgh fans and media that the team would not be trying to deal its third-best player.
Penguins nation, exhale: Phil Kessel isn’t going anywhere.
The man whose arrival in Pittsburgh coincided with the team winning back-to-back Stanley Cups is not on the trading block this summer, according to Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford.
The rumors about a potential Kessel trade first emerged due to reports of friction between him and Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan. Rutherford dismissed the notion of their relationship being some sort of insurmountable problem.
“I think it will be resolved,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Jason Mackey. “Will they get together for a special meeting? I’m not sure that’s necessary at this point. If it is, they’ll figure that out themselves.”
Rutherford acknowledged that the two men have been known to argue on occasion, but he said it was never anything they couldn’t get past.
“I can say throughout the three years that there could’ve been a difference of opinion at times as to the thought process of what line Phil was going to play on,” he told Mackey. “I certainly wouldn’t turn that into a rift.”
Rutherford isn’t entirely sure why the microscope is suddenly on their relationship, though he has a theory.
“I don’t see where that has changed,” he told Mackey. “The only thing that’s changed is that we won the first two years, so nobody wants to talk about it. We didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, so it’s become a bigger public issue. To me, that’s the only reason.”
It’s worth mentioning that Rutherford never explicitly said the words “we won’t be trading Phil Kessel,” but it he has now at least publicly expressed faith in both his coach and one of his star players, an important endorsement of both men.
After tallying a career-high 92 points this season, Kessel only scored one goal in 12 playoff games before the team was eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals in the second round. It was later revealed that Kessel was playing hurt, but no one would confirm what the injuries were or their severity.
As Mackey put it in the headline of his Post-Gazette story: “So Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan disagreed. Big deal.” Just because a coach and one of his star players disagree on strategy doesn’t mean one has to immediately leave town.
This isn’t the first time Kessel has had to work through issues with someone on his team. He and Evgeni Malkin have had a few in-game spats, yet they have developed an adorable friendship. That’s what professionals (and adults) do: speak their minds and then work to find common ground while avoiding more drama.
It can’t be stressed enough that Kessel was one of the cogs that solidified the Penguins roster into a team capable of winning two Stanley Cups in a row. In the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh fans and media need to r-e-l-a-x on Kessel trade speculation going forward.