Aside from death and taxes, one of the incontrovertible truths of the 2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins season was that defenseman Ian Cole would be traded by February 26th.
A tumultuous relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan had the rugged defenseman plastered to the press box for several games this season, but with mounting injuries throughout the lineup, Cole was forced back into the lineup, and has easily been one of the best blue-liners since he's been back.
He's been better than Olli Maata, whose performance has tapered off as of late, better than Justin Schultz, Matt Hunwick, and Jamie Oleksiak.
Jason Mackey, beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was adamant all season long that Cole was a goner.
Yet, in a shocking turn of events, the journalist revealed that Cole will almost certainly not be traded. It's unclear if he'll be signed at the end of the season to a new contract (our guess is no), but it now appears that Jim Rutherford will rent out his own player and keep him for a playoff run, assuming the Penguins make it.
Here are some tidbits from Mackey in a recent Q&A-style article on the Post-Gazette.
"As for Cole, yes, I do see him staying. The indications I've gotten are the Penguins are less interested in trading Cole because of how well he's playing ... especially when you consider the other options they have right now."
"They didn't think he played particularly well early on. I disagree, but my opinion doesn't matter. There have also been issues with Cole and Sullivan. Not that it's untenable, it's not. But more with him being a UFA and not playing great (in their minds) ... plus with Cole pretty much wanting to be traded to somewhere he'd play, that's where the trade talk came from. Now he's playing and playing better than anyone else they have ... so the idea seems to be -- at least for now -- to keep him and get everything they can out of him."
"There's a very good chance Cole stays. Got that one before. "
"Cole has played great. As long as he's playing, I think there's a good bet he stays. One bad game and Sullivan yanks him, that might change things. If he stays, I'm not sure anybody would be on the move. They could trade Ruhwedel for something small, but why? With the injuries they've suffered, and with as much as Hunwick has struggled, it might not be the worst idea to keep 8. Also, the guys in WBS (Corrado, Trotman) aren't exactly knocking down the door."
Now, the message from Mackey isn't that they will absolutely not trade Cole, rather, he is saying that based on his current play, there's a very strong chance he stays, as he has been better than most defensemen on the roster. Furthermore, the need for a third line centre has shifted to the need for a fourth-line pivot. It won't take trading Cole to get one of those, so Rutherford is better off keeping him on board.
Things can change quick in this league - a team can present an offer that GMJR can't refuse, but assuming that never happens, Cole should be a Penguin for the rest of the season.
This is a major and rather shocking turn of events, after every news outlet had Cole out the door for months. Talk about a slap in the face.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Photo Credit: Keystone Press