Kessel Beware, These Are Mike Sullivan's Penguins
Connect with us


Kingerski: Kessel Beware, These Are Mike Sullivan’s Penguins

A Kessel trade? If Kessel wants to remain a Penguin, he should know who is the boss.



Mike Sullivan Pittsburgh Penguins
Mike Sullivan: Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

Phil Kessel beware. These are Mike Sullivan’s Penguins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins once belonged to superstars. What Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, even Sidney Crosby wanted, they got. The team as a matter of philosophy catered to the best players. Perhaps the world changed, perhaps just the organization, but the Penguins no longer cater to their best players.

Sullivan helped, pushed and ultimately transformed the Penguins from an emotionally sensitive, perhaps immature team into a professional juggernaut. His “Just Play” mantra was the antithesis of years of dumb retaliation penalties and being distracted by physical play. The Sullivan led Penguins became hardened veterans immune to the unnerving attempts of opponents.

You know the result. Back to Back Stanley Cup championships.

However, the fastest way out of Pittsburgh is to gain residency on Sullivan’s bad side. As Sullivan established himself, he has exerted more control of the roster. Drawing from his mentor John Tortorella, who is known for shaping rosters with preferred players and punting undesirable players, Sullivan has increasingly asserted himself on the team makeup.

If Kessel hopes to remain a Penguin, angering the coach is not the way to go about it. In the past, a rift with a star player would have the Penguins coach on the hot seat.

Now, the player is the one to worry.

Exhibit A: Ian Cole

Steady, gritty defenseman Ian Cole. The Penguins mid-season defensive struggles were lumped on Cole’s shoulders as the defenseman was banished to the press box for two separate stretches. The Penguins defense was, to many outside observers and this writer, better with Cole.

The row between Cole and Sullivan had many versions told in different corners. Read one of several stories by Pittsburgh Hockey Now here, “Mike Sulivan, Ian Cole Must Make Up, Now.”

Ryan Reaves, also traded with Cole at the trade deadline, was the highest scoring member of the Penguins fourth line. Despite the draft day trade to acquire Reaves, in which the Penguins traded out of the first round, Reaves role declined throughout the season. Reaves ice time dipped to about five minutes per night, or he was a healthy scratch, before the trade.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

It took a while, but Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant has inserted and profited from Reaves presence in the lineup.

We don’t need to rehash for the 10,000th time, in the 2016 playoffs, it was Sullivan’s preference of then-rookie goaltender Matt Murray over Marc-Andre Fleury which effectively made the Penguins franchise goalie choice.

That Fleury, Cole, and Reaves were big personalities and jokesters, and Sullivan is an intense, serious coach is perhaps an interesting discussion point for another day and something to watch for future moves.

Star Player Treatment

Kessel exacerbated internal frustrations because he was a negative in the playoffs at 5v5. In the regular season, coaches trusted Kessel to make the right call about his injury. Knowing he can be sensitive or be upset, they granted him star player treatment to make the decision about the severity of his injuries.

That burned the Penguins.

Kessel chose to play, even after a playoff spot was assured but was a nightmare in playoffs at even strength. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford provided cover for Kessel in the clear-out day press conference, chalking up his performance to the cumulative effect of injuries.

Sullivan did not provide the same cover. In fact, Sullivan blew up Kessel’s spot.

Since Kessel chose not to chat with reporters after the season, Sullivan’s assessment became the official record.

“It was nothing significant. I can tell you that,” said Sullivan.

Kessel’s place in the team is significant. He registered 92 points with 34 goals. Kessel had 42 power play points, including 30 assists which are more than he had at even strength. That production is difficult to replace. However, in addition to Kessel offensive production, his defensive work was statistically deficient, even with defensive center Riley SheahanRead more in Kessel’s season ending report card. 

Kessel’s star player treatment is probably over. If he hopes to remain a Penguin, he may start with a few concessions to the boss. Just like the rest of us.



Subscribe to PHN Extra

Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.



  1. Big Bern

    May 27, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    The Pens were a great scoring team before Kessel, a great scoring team with Kessel and because i want an i in team they will be a great scoring scoring tiem without Kessel. If they can turn Kessel into a defenseman like Dougie Hamilton et. then they will be a much better defensive team.

    I am not suggesting Dougie Hamilton will be a lock to be traded for Kessel but he might be.If Kessel is traded for futures the money could be used on John Carlson ot the futures(which should be significant) could be flipped for a great player or players that make the team better and deeper.

  2. Ricardo58

    May 27, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Nicely described in your article! Is it sensitive or spoiled? Maybe both. 81 would have to display quite an attitude change to buy in to the coach. I guess the stories of Tocchet buffering between 81 and Sullivan were quite accurate. 81 to Edmonton makes sense to me if possible.

  3. Bob

    May 28, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Trade Phil?? Do you hacks really hate him that much? I know he doesn’t give you a the access you want so attack him and try to run him out of town. Awww poor babies. Phil is one of the top scoring winger in the game. For his production his cap hit is a bargain, and lets not forget he should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016. All you Pittsburgh writers are just whiney babies. I hope he does get traded because he deserves better.

    • Dan Kingerski

      May 28, 2018 at 8:24 am

      At no point in the article does it advocate trading Phil Kessel.

      • bob

        May 28, 2018 at 12:26 pm

        You are right the article did not advocate trading Phil, but it is clearly the agenda you are pushing.

  4. Christopher Irwin

    May 28, 2018 at 1:25 am

    I disagree when u said about sully being the boss . now come on we all know who the boss is here in pittsburgh from the pens and that is big #66 . if he wants kessel to stay he will just my opinion this would be a horrible move if they trade kessel unless they get some crazy offer.

  5. IUP2003

    May 28, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Trade two time Stanley Cup champion Phil Kessel? No thanks. I’ll take those 92 points any day of the week. It’s crazy that the writers in this town resort to this garbage in the off-season. The guy had one bad playoff. ONE.

    • Dan Kingerski

      May 28, 2018 at 9:49 pm

      the volume of these responses and people who actually believe we advocated for a trade or made up the story is almost humorous.

  6. Matt Luda

    May 28, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    If this was Mike Sullivan’s team, he would have sat Kessel’s ass in the final week of the season for the good of the team. He caved in to the player, and the Pens are watching the Stanley Cup Final on TV as a result.

  7. Jerry

    May 29, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Look Phil is going to be in Pittsburgh, and that is a good thing. Sullivan has almost no say over Phil leaving like he did with Cole and Reaves. Phil has a NTC that he submits 8 teams he will accept a trade to. That does not leave the Pens with many options. The organization cannot just pick any trade partner, and the rest of the NHL knows that too. So you now we are dealing from a position of weakness not the value of Kessel. If he wants to stay in Pittsburgh its easy just make the 8 teams the rest of the metro, and two teams that have no cap space. There is no way we want him playing for a division rival. So yes while Sully has control in many situations he really doesn’t that in this case.

    • bob

      May 29, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      Jerry you are 100 percent right. Sullivan has no power Phil can dictate where he wants to go if anywhere. I love how Dan went with such a dramatic end to the article ” If he hopes to remain a Penguin, he may start with a few concessions to the boss.Just like the rest of us.” I laughed my butt off. The underlying issue is these media types just do not like the guy so any time they can find a way to down him they do it. If they were real journalist they would drop the fake news and try and run down real news.

      • Dan Kingerski

        May 29, 2018 at 6:33 pm

        While I’m glad you thought the final line dramatic, the assertion we’re trying to “run him down” continues to be laughable. We present the truth of the situation, or in this case, the analysis based on background knowledge and experience.

  8. Dar

    May 29, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    This team needs a jokester to keep things loose in the locker room. It can’t be all serious, all the time. Sullivan really, really needs to suck it up and not let his personal opinions get needed players traded. We all saw how things went downhill with the Reaves and Cole trades. I don’t give a rat’s patoot if Sullivan wants a morose locker room that’s all work all the time. Everyone needs to let loose at some point, especially high energy athletes. And Sullivan needs to be told that he’s not Torts, nor do we want him to be. The displaced Penguins that now play for VGK are laughing in Sullivan’s face.

  9. Katy

    May 29, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    I’m glad Reeves and Fleury are getting the respect they deserve! Because guess what? They won last night and Reeves scored a goal unassisted. I also agree that the locker room can’t be all serious and everyone needs the joker. The chemistry changed after Brassard came into the lineup and Sully needs to realize that he can’t force chemistry. Phil likes playing with Malkin, he plays well with Hornqvist and Hagelin. Trading Phil will cause more problems.

Make your voice heard

%d bloggers like this:

Join PHN Extra!

Join PHN Extra today for exclusive content from Dan and Shelly plus a completely Google ad-free experience.

PHN Extra

Or enter your email below to sign-up for our mailing list.

Thank you!

Something went wrong.

No thanks. I don't want.

Send this to a friend