Phil Kessel has been in the news lately, because Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook floated a trial balloon about the Pittsburgh Penguins trading him. A balloon for which we provided needles here.
“I believe Phil Kessel will be traded. It might not happen this week or this month or even this offseason. But I believe it will happen sooner rather than later,” wrote Cook.
His evidence? The departure of assistant coach and mentor Rick Tocchet, since replaced by Mark Recchi; his contract paying him $6.8 million against the cap through his 35th birthday; as well as his chemistry with his linemates and his relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan.
Now give Cook this: They had Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on “The Cook and Poni Show” (93.7 The Fan) and Cook asked him point blank about trading Kessel.
And here’s what Rutherford said:
“Rick Tocchet did do a good job with Phil. Not only Phil, but other players at different times during the season when they need that one-on-one communication. That’s something that Mark Recchi has done in the past, and he’ll be able to fill that role. He’s done some work with Phil in the past, in the first year Phil was here.
“Phil Kessel’s an important part of the Penguins. He gets a lot of points. He scores big goals. He sets up big goals. The more impact players that you have, like we have, the better chance you have at winning. It may not be on a regular basis. It may come at a certain time in a series, just like it did against Ottawa – Kessel came up with a big goal in an important game.
“I don’t want to sit here and say that a certain player’s not going be traded at some point in his career. It’s already happened to Phil. But that’s not something that I foresee happening right now.”
One of the underrated aspects of this sudden Phil Kessel saga is the support he’s received from Rutherford, who not only believed in him enough to make that controversial trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs but has consistently praised his abilities as a goal-scorer and what that brings to the Penguins.
As he said, there are no guarantees. But it sure sounds like Kessel will be a Penguin next season and have a run with Recchi as his new “Phil Whisperer.”
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