The Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished the inevitable. After Phil Kessel rejected a trade to the Minnesota Wild, the Pens found an agreeable new team for him, all the way out in Arizona. On Saturday, Pittsburgh traded Kessel, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and prospect Dane Birks to the Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph. I am not sure who won or lost this trade; all I know is that Phil is on the move.
The reason Kessel didn’t veto a trade to Arizona is because he has a pal there: Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet used to be an assistant on the Penguins, and was known as a friend and wrangler of the enigmatic creature known as Phil. Arizona finished with a winning record last season for the first time in five years and came close to a playoff spot, but featured a noticeable dearth of scorers. That could be the ideal situation and amount of competitive pressure for a guy like Kessel.
The split between Kessel and the Penguins was quite messy. The day before the trade, The Athletic’s Rob Rossi carried water for the front office when he wrote about the standoff, and it had a few details no doubt meant to cast the player in a bad light. In Toronto, Phil’s vice was allegedly the hot dog cart. In Pittsburgh, it was supposedly the casino:
Kessel’s fondness for Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino, where he is known as a regular, was not viewed as problematic within the organization until [head coach Mike] Sullivan learned a few younger players, including [Jake] Guentzel, had also taken to spending time there on days before games, the sources said. Nothing was said directly to Kessel, but other players were said to hear casino visits on the day prior to games were frowned upon either directly from the coach or a team employee, the sources said.
Kessel usually wraps his casino visits just after dinner time, the sources said.
After the trade was made, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford claimed the team and Kessel parted on good terms. Phil seemed a little pissed, though. Via Josh Yohe of The Athletic:
Rutherford said Kessel, after asking for trades, would sometimes have second thoughts, making the situation murky. There was nothing murky about his preferred destination, however.
“I was well aware that the No. 1 place that Phil wanted to go was Arizona,” Rutherford said. “He has a very good relationship with (coach) Rick Tocchet. I think it’s going to be a good place for him.”
Kessel had a slightly different take on the situation.
“I’m not sure that’s exactly what happened,” Kessel said. “Jim came to me one time and said, ‘(You’ll) never be a Penguin again.’ I think he’s mistaken a little bit there. But I don’t want to get involved in that. I’m not here to tell what really happened and the real truth, but whatever Jim wants to say.”
Phil should fare much better in the desert, on a team most people forget exists. There, he will find peace.