The Pittsburgh Penguins may not have improved their hockey team, at least not from a pure hockey perspective, when they made a big trade on Saturday. The Penguins traded away a point per game player in the form of star forward Phil Kessel, but based on what has transpired since then it seems likely that the Penguins had no choice but to make a hard decision for the sake of the chemistry within the organization.
Kessel of course was traded to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday as one part of a 5 part deal between the Yotes and the Penguins, but surprisingly the bigger story was what followed that move. Not one to speak ill of his players, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford seemingly went out of his way after the move to throw his former player under the bus. Whether you feel Rutherford was out of line however will likely depend on how you feel about the way Kessel behaved while under the Penguins umbrella.
Following the deal with the Coyotes, Rutherford revealed that at numerous times during the 2018 - 2019 National Hockey League regular season Kessel had attempted to force the organizations hand by demanding that he be traded. Now on it's own that revelation would not be too out of the ordinary, after all general managers do at times reveal when a trade demand has been made, however given what we know about Kessel's recent behavior the comments painted the player in a rather unfavorable light. Kessel of course infamously vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for veteran forward Jason Zucker and was able to do so due to the trade protection provided to him by the terms of his contract. Although many fans were frustrated about the decision from Kessel I definitely got the sense that most supported his right to use what little leverage he had been able to negotiate for himself. That of course changed drastically after the reveal from Rutherford.
The idea of a player demanding to be traded and then using his contract to then block the very same trade he demanded has not sat well with fans and the backlash against Kessel following Rutherford's comments has been very pronounced. That being said there are always two sides to every story however, and Kessel has now fired back with comments of his own. The NHL's own Mike Zeisberger had a chance to get a comment from the star forward and Kessel reportedly informed Zeisberger that Rutherford was "mistaken" about his claims that Kessel had approached him numerous times to be traded. Kessel also added that Rutherford is free to say what he wants and that he does not want to get involved.
One last thing worth noting here. Jonathan Bombulie of the Tribune Review dug up some old quotes from when Kessel was traded to the Bruins, and if you look at the image he's provided below it seems like Kessel is singing a tune he has sung before. That is not to suggest that he is lying about Rutherford here, none of us truly know what went on behind the scenes, but I will admit I am inclined to give Rutherford the benefit of the doubt after seeing this.