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‘No One Ever Asked’: Sullivan Praises Phil Kessel, Discusses Media Role



Mike Sullivan: Photo by Dan Kingerski

(DALLAS) — It may seem an obvious question and answer in 2018. The media makes everything worse. As “Fake News” headlines and arguments rage based on perspective and wanted conclusions, as reporters increasingly find themselves ducking for cover, media is close to a four-letter word. And so Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan if “we” media made it more difficult to maintain a relationship with players, like Phil Kessel.

Sullivan spoke to several reporters, including PHN, in an upbeat but direct media scrum at the 2018 NHL Draft.

“Sometimes, and maybe this is just the nature of the business when we say things you draw conclusions or extrapolate things that we had no intention of relaying to you guys,” said Sullivan. “That’s just the nature of the business.”

Sullivan smiled as he explained his perspective. Undoubtedly, he and at least this reporter quickly flashed back to locker clean-out day when general manager Jim Rutherford said injuries caught up with Kessel, and Sullivan sternly said Kessel’s injuries “weren’t significant, I can tell you that.”

The difference between Sullivan and Rutherford seemed to buttress reports, by Pittsburgh Hockey Now, that there was a rift between the coach and Kessel.

“No one ever asked either myself or Phil. The reality is our relationship is as good as it has ever been,” Sullivan said simply. “Have we had our differences? At times during the course of each season that we’ve been together, of course, we have. That’s the player-coach relationship which goes on between every team.”

It should be noted, some reporters have spoken with the Kessel camp. However, Kessel has not made direct or indirect comments on the situation.

Sullivan said his relationship with Kessel has been the same for three seasons. Sullivan, who fastidiously protects his players and goes out of his way to create positive communication, had nothing but effusive praise for Kessel. Such acts are one of Sullivan’s great strengths as a leader, that even when friction is public, Sullivan stresses the positive.

Kessel completed a 92-point season, which was a career best. When asked about Kessel’s late-season decline and playoff ineffectiveness, Sullivan said he couldn’t provide an answer. In this case, we believe he meant he didn’t know, not that he wouldn’t provide an answer.

“My relationship with Phil is the same as it’s always been. It’s one of mutual respect. And that’s how I see it. I like Phil a lot, as a person and a hockey player. He’s been a big part of the Penguins success for the last three seasons and is coming off a 92-point season,” said Sullivan.

Perhaps and Kessel will have another sit-down, as they did last summer, to clear the air. Perhaps there was no air to clear.

In true 2018 fashion, everyone is free to believe the coach’s literal words or extrapolate their own version and motives. Sullivan and the Penguins clearly want to project the brighter version of events than previously reported. And true to Kessel, he appears willing to ignore the situation, at least in the media.

Watch the entire video on PHN Extra here:




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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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4 years ago

Nice way of describing the situation within the article. My take, attempts to trade 81 failed and now is time to paint a misunderstood picture of the professional relationship between coach and player. I’m not part of the Phil Defense team. I trust there was a serious rift and the media didn’t make up the matter. My family like 81 a lot! I root for him because he dons the Pens jersey. However, if 81 remains on team, the Pens must build up team D. Any team can cover for one player being defensively soft, but not any more than… Read more »