Penguins: Unpacking the Phil Kessel “Story”

If you’ve been watching a little of the ol’ sporting news as of late, you know that one name keeps coming up: Phil Kessel.

Before your eyes roll completely out of your head, the story here is rife with potential.

Consider that the Pittsburgh Penguins forward has produced rather well, with 221 points in 246 games for the Paris of Appalachia. He has two Stanley Cups, but now the shine seems to be off the proverbial apple. Perhaps.

If Josh Yohe’s reporting is to be taken at face value, Kessel is on the outs with the Penguins.

Pittsburgh was dropped from this year’s playoffs by the Cup-challenging Capitals and the loss hit hard.

“I think it’s obvious that I’m going to keep an open mind to making some changes, and I will make some changes,” general manager Jim Rutherford said after the ejection. “I can’t give you a definite answer on who that’s going to be right now and exactly the positions, but we’re a good team, and we will be a good team going forward. We’ll have a chance to win again. We have the nucleus to do that.”

Without question, that’s not a recipe for a rebuild or any kind of major renovation. The Penguins are a good team, even a great one, and there’s no reason to pull a Vancouver Canucks-style panicked rebuild.

But then there was Phil Kessel.

Few players have faced the sort of media-inspired scrutiny as the 30-year-old from Madison, what with reporting out of Toronto driving him out of town on a hot dog cart. The latest rumours of a rift between management and player may also be part of a campaign to chase him out of Pittsburgh, say some.

Kessel is, for one reason or another, one of the first players blamed by local media for a team’s perceived lack of success. And many fans reflexively follow suit.

It’s not hard to see why. Kessel’s treatment of the media has been less than model, although it’s hard to blame him. Long-term exposure to fecund and often misdirected criticism tends to net a negative effect, which may explain why he skirted locker clean-out day and didn’t talk to the press. This, naturally, resulted in more adverse screeds.

This may shock readers who actually read the articles, but many writers embellish claims and build stories out of nothing to generate hits. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe. Some, I’ve heard, even plant misprints to produce comments. As the platitude says, any publicity is good publicity.

But like Simmons’ nefarious hot-dogging, the Yohe piece in The Athletic has spawned another horde of articles exploring possible trade destinations for Kessel as if he’s on the blocks. And the aforementioned Rutherford quote has been jammed, twisted and packed to fit all manner of conspiratorial rantings.

Is Phil Kessel on the trade block for the Penguins? Never say never.

But the forward put up 92 points this season, three more than teammate Sidney Crosby and five more than Alex Ovechkin. Those aren’t small potatoes, no matter what your odd “personal” problems may be with Kessel. And it’s hard to imagine any team that takes wants to win shipping out a player of his calibre on the basis of what seems to be a media-driven skirmish.

Is there a rift between Kessel and head coach Steve Sullivan? Maybe. There’s always a bit of bad blood after a significant loss. Kessel’s reported disenchantment with his line placement has been well-documented and over-reported. But that doesn’t mean he’s on the fast train out of Pittsburgh any time soon.

Published by Dr. Pucksworth

Doctor of Puckanomics.

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