By now, the off-the-record comments and stories are bleeding into news coverage of the Ian Cole saga. You no longer have to read between the lines to know the situation comes down to a clash, or difference, between Cole and head coach Mike Sullivan. These things happen on every team, in every league, at every level. However, for the good of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ian Cole and Mike Sullivan must make up, now.
The Penguins may trade Ian Cole, but it would be nearly impossible to replace Ian Cole.
On the ice, Ian Cole is a stalwart, a guy who will block heavy shots with his jaw if he must. He is to the Penguins defensive corps what Patric Hornqvist is to the forwards. He plays hard, physical and will bleed for his team. Those types of warriors are precious commodities, especially when they have the best shot suppression statistics on the team. (Read yesterday’s column for more on that).
Teams with defensemen like Ian Cole, who make only $2.1 million, tend to hang on them. Those types of players aren’t flashy, or all-stars, nor do they get much attention, but…they win.
The collision of Ian Cole and Sullivan is not entirely surprising. Cole is a colorful guy who enjoys life. Who else took a picture of the Stanley Cup with Star Wars Storm Trooper? And we are pretty sure we don’t want to know why he’s washing the Stanley Cup with a garden hose, but we’re sure it was a good time.
Mike Sullivan: Leader
Mike Sullivan is a leader, as much as a coach. What elevates Sullivan to the top tier of NHL coaches is his combination of tactical acumen and leadership. Matt Cullen called Sullivan “the best X’s and O’s coach I’ve ever been around.”
Sullivan’s leadership does not need much examination. Simply, with his barking voice and intensity, he is able to herd cats. Remember the disorganized Penguins before Sullivan arrived?
The inmates ran the asylum for several years (and have traditionally run the team in this city), but within weeks, Sullivan had the entire organization following his lead. He gathered big-time players with big-time egos and grinders to make history.
Simply getting his team on the same page was a task which other professional coaches had tried and failed.
Sullivan was John Tortorella’s assistant coach for seven years. Tortorella is somewhat infamous for carving players out of the room. Sullivan has not done so, to this point, in his tenure with the Penguins. Though Sullivan became combative with the media hoard at practice, Tuesday.
“I think sometimes you guys make it up as you go,” Sullivan told reporters. “I don’t know where this stuff comes from.”
Well, perhaps it isn’t an issue to Sullivan. However, Ian Cole’s agent is reportedly assisting in the effort to find a trade. That’s not a common occurrence and lends credence to this being a legitimate internal issue which must be resolved quickly.
Who’s to Blame?
It doesn’t matter.
For the good of all involved–the team, the player, and the coach–Cole and Sullivan must patch up their differences. The Penguins defense, which has been one of the worst units in the league this season can ill-afford to lose it’s best defensive zone presence. And Sullivan can ill-afford to show weakness, especially to this crew which can chew up and spit out any coach.
Stanley Cups are won with many ingredients, but always a few players like Cole.
Someone has to, at very least, soften their stance. In such cases, the player should make an effort with the coach to preserve the chain of command, and the coach should be receptive to it. Stubbornness may feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t usually help either.
Sidney Crosby could also play a role as an intermediary. Crosby certainly carries considerable weight with management and thus the coaching staff. As the captain, he can and should get in the middle of this situation (if he already hasn’t).
If neither bends, then both sides will be diminished. They need to make up, now.
—Don’t forget: Set your DVR’s and Watch with us live. Pittsburgh Hockey Now on Pittsburgh’s CW Network, this Saturday, 11:30 am. We’ll discuss the Ian Cole situation, Matt Murray, Conor McDavid, the Canadiens tire fire and paying Patric Hornqvist.