If you look at his scoresheet, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017-18. However, it wasn’t enough to quiet all the trade rumors surrounding the veteran player, which have intensified since the Pens were eliminated in the second round at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
Several media reported that in addition to having a tense relationship with Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin, the 30-year-old player was also struggling to keep a friendly relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan.
It all started weeks days ago when a huge trade rumor leaked out when 105.9 FM radio host Mark Madden revealed that his sources had informed him that the Penguins were actively shopping Kessel to rival teams in an effort to trade him. Madden cited sources both close to the team as well as Kessel himself, adding that the forward himself would be ok with the idea of being traded by the franchise.
However, coach Sullivan now denies the report, claiming he holds a good relationship with Kessel, in an interview with The Athletic.
“My relationship with Phil has been the same for three seasons,” Sullivan said. “It hasn’t changed. It’s evolved because we’ve been through different experiences both as a group and as individuals. But my relationship with Phil is the same as it’s always been. It’s one of mutual respect. That’s how I see it. I like Phil a lot as a person and as a hockey player. He’s been a big part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ success during the last three seasons. He’s coming off a 92-point season, he put us in great position to compete for another Stanley Cup. He was a huge part of the two Stanley Cups that we won. Myself and the coaching staff has nothing but respect for the player and the person that he is.”
Coach Sullivan added that he is stunned to hear these rumors, saying that no one ever contact him or Kessel on these allegations.
“No one ever asked myself or Phil,” Sullivan said. “The reality is, our relationship is as good as it’s ever been. There’s a mutual respect there. Have we had our differences at times during the course of each season we’ve been together? Of course we have. But that’s the player-coach relationship that goes on with every team. As I say to Phil and to all of our players, my commitment to them is to find common ground to put them all in positions to be successful. And I assure you guys that both Phil and I have the same motivation in mind, and that’s trying to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win and be successful.”
So, will this put the Kessel trade rumors to rest?