It was all true. The Phil Kessel reports from last summer, Mike Sullivan’s downplaying and the flare-ups within the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were all true.
Now and then, I peruse the message boards. I admit it. Sometimes my blood will boil as I see an angry troll smear or bash this site and other times I smile when I see Pittsburgh Hockey Now given respect. As a startup, it’s hard to break into an intensely loyal market with unique coverage of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But it was a post yesterday that sent my wheels spinning and made me smile.
A simple post pulled it all together.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now was the first on the Kessel story last summer. In our infancy, we were accused of making up the locker room friction for clicks. We were accused of clickbait and otherwise hammered as Phil haters. It didn’t matter that two weeks later, similar stories then appeared in the prominent newspaper. Then the Athletic.
And countless stories over the past three months.
The Kessel and Pittsburgh Penguins saga is now over. Fans have said their goodbyes, and it was an anti-climactic end which most accepted. With all of the information which has poured out from most outlets, the saga last summer cannot be dismissed any longer. So, let’s set the record straight.
The same issues which existed last season were also a problem in 2017-2018, perhaps not in the same contagious and cancerous way, but they existed. Members of the Penguins organization saw the potential for the negative spread, but it thought it could be repaired. There were trade talks last summer, or at least some interested parties.
The smoking gun came when former team leader Pascal Dupuis spoke out publicly about the problems, last season. At the time, the fans condemned the comments, and so did the organization. And Dupuis said no more. I took the comments matter of factly without realizing the full significance. At least not until yesterday when a message board post linked to our story with a wry comment about the situation.
Dupuis said Sullivan was not well received by a couple of the Penguins stars, and there was a disconnect. His comments received organizational pushback.
“I believe there’s a mutual respect that exists amongst us. And so that’s just part of the process and working through challenges,” Sullivan said in mid-December.
Not long after, Sullivan also had to admit, “ice time is a coach’s hammer,” after he benched Kessel among other players for lazy play. Recently, Sullivan and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford have repeated, “We didn’t come together as a team.”
Stick tap to commentor Butternubs.
So, let’s once and for all set the record straight. Yes, last summer the reports were accurate. There was friction between Kessel and the coaches which didn’t just begin in December. It did however fester and spread.
The stories were mostly correct even as Sullivan and the organization did their best to tamp them down as part of the competitive process. When Rick Tocchet left after the 2017 Stanley Cup victory to become the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, the Penguins lost the person able to push Kessel. This may be previously unreported dirt; Tocchet would also get frustrated but the pair had success.
Perhaps Tocchet’s nickname, “The Kessel whisperer,” was spot on.
Current assistant coach Mark Recchi was not as successful. The reason could be traced back to the new directives given to Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, and their reluctance to buy-in to the Penguins evolving style of play. Without Justin Schultz to push the puck for most of the season, the Penguins relied on defensive defensemen and organizational depth players to fill their top-six on the blue line.
The Penguins 200-foot play and defensive zone awareness replaced the more aggressive offensive game. It wasn’t as much fun or in keeping with the desires of a couple of players.
Given the current toxicity which pervades political reporting, it’s not hard to believe “all’ reporters or writers are advocates and have staked out a position.
It’s OK. “The media,” including Pittsburgh Hockey Now didn’t make things up. It wasn’t a narrative. Or an agenda. It just was.