Phil Kessel has been nothing short of remarkable in his NHL career, often seen as an antihero or scape goat on whichever team he finds himself on. He's remained one of the elite scoring wingers of the NHL, making him a coveted asset and a key component to the Pittsburgh Penguins two Stanley Cups in the past three years.
However, no matter how skillful or talented Kessel is, if a coach finds him insufferable then he's likely to find himself on the trade block once again. Such is the case with Penguins coach, Mike Sullivan. A fantastic introspective piece by Josh Yohe of the Athletic reveals some underlying concerns between Kessel and Sullivan, some of which very well might be beyond repair.
There's always been a slight divide between Sullivan and Kessel, but tensions have never been higher than right now.
Kessel has always been an interesting character in the NHL. He's a naturally gifted player, and yet he's often regarded as selfish and egocentric amongst past coaches. Still, he's a locker room favorite. This past postseason, Kessel saw his production plummet after a 92-point regular season.
Some blame injury, some blame fatigue, some just flat out blame Kessel for his inability to score. For Kessel, he thinks that he should have been playing on Evgeni Malkin's line during the Playoffs, which Mike Sullivan vocally disagreed with.
Instead, Kessel lined up with Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan on the third line, which was undoubtedly Pittsburgh's worst line during the post-season. Sullivan has also stated that Kessel was never "significantly injured" during the Playoffs, and that's coming from a coach who rarely ever discloses injuries of his players.
Was Phil Kessel a major factor in why the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups? Yes. Did he look a bit “off” at times during this past postseason? Yes. Is it valid to wonder why and if he was playing hurt? Yes. Does anything that’s happened with him warrant trading him? No.— Mike J. Asti (@MikeAsti11) May 24, 2018
Whether Kessel getting traded is realistic or not, his relationship with Sullivan has been beaten and bruised way beyond repair.
The saga of Kessel vs. Sullivan has reached it's tipping point. The next chapter in this story will either be Kessel beginning the 2018-19 season in a different jersey, or both sides will put aside their differences and continue towards their goal of a third Stanley Cup in four years.