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Yep, the Penguins Internal Struggle Was True



Pittsburgh Penguins Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin

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.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

Irresponsible: Mike Sullivan Pushes Back on Pascal Dupuis Comments

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.

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

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  1. RobertU

    July 18, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Yep, you got it right and a lot of commenters should apologize. I remember people coming here and talking about how “sick” they were of you “bashing Phil.” I can’t help but wonder what Phil could be if he took his game, training, diet, and team seriously.

  2. Sean T

    July 18, 2019 at 9:22 am

    The issues I the locker room were definitely real. In the future, I would be a little less quick to sight a Rob Rossi article to support your claims. For the better part of the last 6-7 years he has presented himself as the Pittsburgh sports equivalent of a tabloid journalist.

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 18, 2019 at 9:43 am

      There was no reference to a Rossi article in the above.

  3. gerald gilbert

    July 18, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Phil is a great player no doubt. Sounds like a good person also. The problem is even if you put 2 good people together it doesn’t mean they can get along. If there is a rift between 2 people(and one being the head coach) in a 30 person room you will start to see factions form. In that situation the head coach is more important than a second tier(for the Penguins) player. Especially when a top tier player(Malkin) starts to side with him. Is Kessel a poison? No but in certain situations anyone could poison a room. In this situation he was. Again i enjoyed Kessel great player who helped bring the cup to Pittsburgh twice!

    • David A

      July 18, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      I dunno, define “poison”. Putting everything else aside a hockey player is essentially a highly compensated employee. Employees are expected to follow basic programs and directives of their employer. That’s how things work. Kessel was a great player in Toronto too and they slammed the door behind him. Call it what you will, but there’s a pattern here. Thanks Phil, but see ya.

      • gerald gilbert

        July 18, 2019 at 7:06 pm

        Your thoughts are along the lines of mine. Some times you hire someone and they are great at first but then slip into dissatisfaction and become a problem. Would we have won 2 cups without him maybe, maybe not but we did with him. Over time he spoiled. Milk taste great when you buy it but after awhile if you don’t drink it it spoils.

      • gerald gilbert

        July 18, 2019 at 8:22 pm

        Poision as in spoiling over time. Like a gallon of milk in a fridge it taste good for awhile but if you don’t drink it in time it spoils. Phil was what the Pens needed at the time but he met his shelf life.

  4. Mike

    July 18, 2019 at 10:33 am

    What about Letang? HCMS was clearly talking about him in his postgame comments after the loss to NYI game 1 and other losses that series. Letang has been publicly insubordinate multiple times with his comments about refusing to make better risk/reward decisions.

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 18, 2019 at 11:52 am

      I know fans have included him in the conversation, but I don’t get the sense that he bristled at the coaches. He played the game as they wanted, played at 100%, though of course, he does make some high profile mistakes which frustrate even him. I wouldn’t confuse the coach’s calling out some of those mistakes with friction.

      • kerrdog2111

        July 18, 2019 at 3:31 pm

        So besides Phil who were the other star players that caused friction? If we are using the Dupuis quote as a jumping off point, ” Dupuis said Sullivan was not well received by a couple of the Penguins stars” Phil was one who are the others?

  5. dean

    July 18, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Dan, I am not an expert in your industry, however after spending most of my career in corporate America, I am an entrepreneur. I understand the pressures of starting a new business and the feeling that it is you against the world, the highs and lows associated with each day, and the fact that it is harder, cost more, and takes far longer then what most entrepreneurs understand (the main reason most fail). There are hundreds of thousands of pens fans and it will take time to build a following.

    I assume that it is this pressure that caused you to use “poor form” twice in 3 days, and I would hate to see you self implode.

    You don’t want to call the readers that have a different opinion as you stupid or make them feel inferior in any way. I can’t imagine walking into a prospects office and belittling them in any way because they don’t have the insight that we have.
    You don’t want to call yourself “great, or brilliant”, you want others to make those claims about you. I can’t imagine walking into a prospect or customers office and telling them that our solution is “great or brilliant”, I want them to realize the brilliance of our solution themselves.

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      July 18, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Dan will succeed because he’s an honest voice of reason in a sea of social media hyperbole. That’s actually a pretty novel thing these days and why I think the following is steadily growing here. If he’s being honest about his feelings towards things he sees, that’s just more reason to trust him.

      • dean

        July 18, 2019 at 3:32 pm

        I would expect nothing less from you.

        • Hatrick Pornqvist

          July 18, 2019 at 4:00 pm

          Not sure what that means.

          • dean

            July 18, 2019 at 4:04 pm

            Not surprised.

          • Hatrick Pornqvist

            July 18, 2019 at 4:29 pm

            Oh I get it now Dean!

            You’re here to defend that silly blog (that rhymes with Hensblurg) because Dan struck a nerve. You are the angry troll. Makes sense now that you decided to come here again and blow off some steam and insult Dan’s form and the intelligence of those who compliment him.

            Is it making you feel like a big boy? Twitter is that way.

          • dean

            July 18, 2019 at 8:41 pm

            My note was to Dan, and didn’t require a response from you.

            I was to telling Dan I understand how hard it is to start a business and unless you have done it yourself, you can’t understand all the emotions that Dan goes through on a daily/hourly basis. 1 in a billion may be an instant success, but the rest will take longer and cost more than planned. It is a hard and lonely road. You most likely have a job, Dan is spending money most likely and not getting much or any back yet.

            When pressure hits sometime you do things out of frustration that are not beneficial to what really matters which is growth. You don’t want to chase readers away; you really want them all (maybe not a few).

            My encouragement to Dan was to stick the course, which is about growth. That is what pays his bills.

            You trying to run down the competition, that have tens of thousands of subscribers, may make him feel good, however it is not putting food on the table.

  6. Nathan St. Marsaille

    July 18, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Happy to read this article. IMO, the Penguins (GMJR) could not have been so stupid to trade a player like Kessel unless he was a problem. And he has been a problem everywhere he has played. In fact, you could sense it on the ice — both he and Malkin would make the same stupid mistakes over and over again. They stood out in that regard. I for one am glad Kessel is gone. Thankful for his contribution to the two championships, but there is no way the Pens could go through another season dealing with this. Phil apparently has a shelf life of 4 years on the average with one team. (3 with Boston, 6 with Toronto, and 4 with the Penguins)

  7. Randy Butternubs

    July 18, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    You got my name wrong.

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 18, 2019 at 5:33 pm

      Sorry! It looked like Buttemubs with my obviously deteriorating eyesight! It was a stout comment.

  8. Gifford Davis

    July 18, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Don’t break your arm trying to pat yourself on the back. It still comes down to the fact that this trade was unnecessary and that Phil doesn’t deserve the smear job put forth by Penguins management and the mucking raking class. This is CYA time for Penguins management. Rutherford’s numerous asset and money wasting trades along with Sullivan’s line blender at frappe speed coaching style and his lack of people skills result in a lack of chemistry? Duh! You guys keep moving the goalposts Last year it was Phil having a bad playoffswas the reason for the Penguins downfall even though he was obviously hurt and still had 9 points in 12 games. This year it was noted that he had the best performance in the playoffs for the Penguins forwards. Never mind the fact that Justin was out the majority of the season. Hornquist had a down year and Brassard was an unmitigated disaster you and your I’ll are going to blame Phil. Here is a novel idea instead of simply regurgitating pablum straight from the Penguins management do some honest objective journalism. Oh and here is another statistic Philled the league in game winning goals. Oh but I’m sure that you and your hit squad will proclaim that it is irrelevant and that Jack Johnson is a great player. Sorry you reporting some friction amongst the team and management doesn’t repair your anti-Phil bias. Giff

  9. Doug

    July 18, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    Kessel is the most over-rated player in hockey. I’ve never seen a player so easily stripped of the puck again and again and again, he has zero interest in playing defense, and he’s as mistake-prone as Malkin and Letang. He may have scored a point a game — but his inexcusable laziness and fear of physical contact allowed more than a point a game to be scored against the Penguins. His departure is the Penguins’ gain.

    Add in the dissension he contributed to and all I can say is good riddance.

  10. Cal

    July 18, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Dan, nailed it….”like a boss”

  11. Edgar

    July 18, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    AS someone who was booted off another site for not getting long with the powers that be, I’m glad I found this place, not only for the tone, but for the reporting that has been right on the mark numerous times. Let’s face it, that’s what reporting is all about. Did you get the story correct? If not, why should I listen? Well, you’ve been right on many occasions in the few months that I’ve been a member. And a small consolation to me is the place that no longer wanted me has been nothing but wrong. So, it’s kind of a win-win for me. But, the truth is, I’m glad I found a place where I feel I can get the real news about the Pens. Congrats. And thanks.

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 18, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      I appreciate that Edgar. Welcome.

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      July 18, 2019 at 8:39 pm

      Another victim of the Hooks Orpik echo chamber mob. Welcome back to sanity land.

  12. Matt Luda

    July 19, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    So why does Madden continue to refer to Danny as “some local jamoke”? #JustAskin

    • Dan Kingerski

      July 19, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      Is that how he’s referring to me? He does know my national experience. Oh well.

  13. Jason W

    July 21, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    Articles are always spot on. You can tell that there’s a lot of hours involved. That is much appreciated.

    The Phil Saga is over. Thanks for the memories Phil. It was clearly time for Phil to move on.

    Keep up the good work Dan.

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