On Phil Kessel

By Vince June 29, 2019
Categories NHL Penguins Sports
Tags #comedy #hockey #Kessel #LetsGoPens #NHL #Penguins #PhiltheThrill #Pittsburgh #PittsburghPenguins #YGZcontent #yinzguhyz

EDIT: I wrote this over the course of the week, and posted it a day before the trade that sent Phil to the Coyotes. I will do a post on that deal itself, but I am going to leave this as is. It is a piece from a concerned Penguins fan heading into the free agency period, praying his GM doesn’t do something dumb with his star winger. Fuck me, right?

Sucks I had to write this, because Phil is a great player and we shouldn’t be in this position currently…but here we are.

Word is now they’re still looking to move him. There’s a piece on The Athletic by Rossi I just read concerning the subject (published June 28th, 2019) and there seem to be multiple issues Sullivan has with Phil.

First off, Kessel apparently insists on playing with Malkin. This is weird to me. I feel like that could be remedied with some conversations. I mean, look at what happened in 2016 with HBK. Preferring Malkin is one thing, but being a dick about it to the point of shitting on the staff? I feel like this could be remedied with a legitimate conversation.

Also on the part of the staff, maybe listening to what Phil has to say.

How about you switch ALL the lines up every now and then anyway Mike, so it doesn’t seem like you’re soloing out Phil when you do separate him from Geno. Sounds like a better idea to me than keeping Guentzel stapled to Crosby and setting a precedent there. Sure, they produce, but you can still change it up SOMETIMES instead of literally never, right?

Phil and Malkin on the same line, two seasons ago, both put up tremendous 90+ point seasons, and then the chemistry just went out the window last year. Is that on the players, or is there something else there with the coach?

Anyway, there is also a worry of Sullivan’s about Kessel having an adverse effect on both Malkin and Guentzel, which is a clear indicator of Sullivan being a control freak. Here is a direct quote from an unnamed source in the article

“I think he (Sullivan) is a really good coach. But he could change some things and be even better. A coach with his tone is going to do better with players like they have in Pittsburgh if he doesn’t try to control everything.”

With Malkin the worry is that he’s regressing defensively and adopting Phil’s bad habits, which to me, sounds like bullshit. So I looked up Malkin’s Defensive Point Shares the past two seasons. Last year was bad, he posted a measly .4 of a point, which was the worst mark of his career. But the year before that, he actually posted a 2.2 on a full season with Phil and scored 98 points.

Last year they both sucked on defense, for sure. Too many lapses. Poor chemistry. Seemed like they were trying to do too much and just kept digging themselves deeper and deeper. That can change with a summer to think about it, watch tape, and learn what NOT to do.

You know, good coaching, guidance, and faith in the player.

With Guentzel, the worry is off-ice stuff because apparently Phil likes going to the casino before games or some shit. But Sullivan would really like it if Guentzel didn’t do that and Phil is rubbing off on him!

YO

Jake Guentzel is a young man! Fuck off Mike. If you’re concerned, tell him. But stop trying to control shit that has nothing to do with you.

If that were true (Mike Sullivan saying that), and I were Phil, I’d probably be pissed, because who the fuck are you to even speculate about that and say it is a negative thing? Another quote I loved from a source in that article

“I mean, what were we talking about really? Kessel goes to the casino and that’s why other guys go — is that the theory?” another source said. “That’s a flimsy worry about Kessel. He plays every game. He averages a point every game. Maybe more players should go to casinos.”

I could see not wanting your players to become regulars at casinos, but also, talk to them about it. Don’t sit back and blame one of your best players! So dumb.

This article makes it seem like Phil is holding the Penguins hostage, but in reality, as I will outline in my next piece that is far from the truth, as GMJR has some other options to make the team better. 

Funnily, that article barely touches on the fact that the team Rutherford put together the last 2 years was CLEARLY worse in multiple ways than the teams that won back to back Cups in ‘16 and ’17.

It’s time to take some responsibility for that and to stop blaming Phil for the shortcomings of the team. He should be embraced as a member of the Penguins forever, enshrined here, immortalized.

Phil Kessel is NOT somebody you “get rid of”! Fuck that nonsense!

I’d be just fine with the team finding another coach, honestly. Keep Phil, ax Sullivan. Trade Murray for Fleury LOL.

I mean fuck man, Phil’s a great player. If you have to keep Sullivan (which seems like Rutherford’s inclination), by all means, keep calling Colorado. They could use wingers and have the cap space. While I think that’s a mistake, it would allow us to sign some legit FA options, like Gus Nyquist AND Joe Pavelski. That’d be dope, and Phil would be on a team with a real chance to win the Cup.

But at this point I’d rather we keep him. This is a piece about how great Phil is and why it’s dumb to consider trading him. 

Some background for ya

Phil came over in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 offseason. Promptly, the Penguins went on to win back to back Stanley Cups. The first one, in 2016, Phil’s line with Hagelin and Bonino basically won the Cup for us. HBK forever (especially in that years rendition of the Washington series; without HBK we lose that one 100%)!

In the 2017 offseason, after the second cup win, we had a bunch of turnover on the roster (much less than the first year) losing multiple key depth players to free agency (namely, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, and Chris Kunitz), one of the most important players on the team and in the locker room to the expansion draft (Marc-Andre Fleury), and an assistant coach who happened to have a great relationship with Phil, to be the head coach in Arizona (Rick Tocchet). 

Rutherford allowed all of these players to leave, actually paying the Golden Knights to take Fleury in the EXP draft instead of getting any value for him (seems like a Sullivan backed move). Notably, he let Bonino walk, instead of signing him to what now looks like a very reasonable deal in Nashville.

Thinking the team needed some grit and toughness, he went out and made a very bad trade for Ryan Reaves that jacked up the roster. The following 2 years, he made some other costly trades and signings, notably for players like Derick Brassard, Jack Johnson, Tanner Pearson, and the list goes on.

Honestly, more players have NOT worked out coming over here than have in the past couple of seasons.   

Murray didn’t have a good first season as the #1 without Fleury (poor regular season, poor playoffs that squashed our threepeat bid, while Fleury went out and took the Knights to the Cup final in their first season as a team).

Thus far, Rutherford and Sullivan’s insistence on keeping Murray over Fleury has not aged well. 

Anyway, since his tenure on the team began following the 2014-15 season, Phil has been one of the most consistent players on the Penguins in terms of overall production, especially in the playoffs. 

While with the Penguins, Rick Tocchet was touted as a sort of “Phil Whisperer”. I have never spoken to either him or Phil, but I suspect that this was because instead of trying to make Kessel be or play a certain way, he instead was able to communicate value and guidance, most likely by leveling with him.

Maybe Sullivan could chose to actually appreciate the things The Thrill DOES do for the team, which frankly, happen to be quite a fucking lot of things, instead of harping on the perceived negative aspects of his character. 

In that Rossi article, it’s dropped that Phil is openly defiant in meetings and on the ice for “presumed selfish reasons”.

In one way, if he isn’t heard or listened to by the staff, you could understand why he might be pissed, as the dude is a STAR PLAYER and he deserves to be heard.

But being a dick on the ice…on purpose? To prove a point? That doesn’t sound right to me. The article doesn’t go into detail there about the nature of his challenges in meetings, or the on ice behavior he is alluding to, but this sounds like bullshit to me. Direct quote from the article

“These occurrences are not blowups, but rather consistent challenges (vocally and through actions) by Kessel of either Sullivan or assistant coach Mark Recchi.”

Uh, yea that isn’t specific enough, and honestly, your star players should be ENCOURAGED to challenge the coaching staff. You know, because they’re smart and the best at what they do in the entire world for fucks sake.

I’d like to know what type of actions they’re speaking of that was challenging the staff. In meetings, if Kessel’s voice isn’t heard, that’s bullshit because he is a STAR player on the team so he deserves to be heard. 100% is his right to voice his opinion. If Kessel is an asshole with bad ideas, then say that.

Somehow I don’t think that’s it though.

Either way, Tocchet’s influence on Phil was very positive while he was with the team. Once he left, it wasn’t the same. 

As much as the media wants to put the current relationship Phil has with the staff on his shoulders, I put it on Mike Sullivan. Unfortunately, throughout his career (mostly in Toronto), Phil has been pegged as a difficult guy to coach. That makes it an easy and lazy narrative for him to be the whipping post in instances like this. 

What this bullshit narrative fails to take into account is that Phil Kessel is a STAR fucking player. That means that you should figure out how to work with him, not try and make him do what you want him to do. He helped bring 2 (!!) Cups here! Pretty simple stuff. And, it should be noted that it seems like all the other players love him, from the way they talk about him.  

I sincerely doubt that this situation is entirely Phil’s fault, which is how it is being portrayed. Sullivan is a hard-nosed guy who has shown to be biased throughout his tenure as the Penguins coach. From reading that article, you also get the sense that he is a control freak.

One example of his clear bias is when he pulled Fleury and replaced him with Murray during our second Cup run in 2017. Sure, it ended up working well enough, but it was still Fleury’s net to lose, and with the way he had played up until that point, he DESERVED another game.

Fleury didn’t lose the net, it was taken from him. When you factor in the Flower’s legacy with the way he had been playing it was a no-brainer to give him another game. His last game as a Penguin was getting pulled in an ECF game where the three games PRIOR to his being pulled his save percentage was fucking .977 (85 of 87 with 2 shutouts!).

That’s a guy you give another game folks. I will never let that go.

Another example is how much he clearly favors Sid over the rest of the forwards on the team. I get it; Sid is an amazing player, especially when you consider his play at both ends of the ice. But Sullivan is biased towards him, and it shows in the ATOI between Sid, Malkin and Kessel. 

Last 4 years in the play-offs ATOI-Shifts/GP

Sid: 20:09-26.5

Geno: 18:02-23.6

Phil: 17:43-22.9

For fun, Guentzel: 18:00-24.5

If you’re counting at home, Sullivan is playing Sid a full TWO MINUTES MORE  (and three more shifts) per game than his teammates of nearly equal value. (Guentzel, too, playing more minutes than both Geno and Phil is not ideal. Sure, he’s a great player, but you need some more balance in your top lines there, especially at even strength.)

I could understand Crosby having 30 seconds more. Maybe even a full minute. But 2 fucking minutes and three whole shifts? That’s ridiculous, and it’s bad coaching.

From my perspective Sullivan clearly favors Crosby. Makes sense because he’s one of the best players of all time. But when Evgeni Malkin, a fellow Hall of Famer in his own right, and Phil Kessel, one of most talented wingers in the NHL, are your teammates you have to respect Geno and Phil’s games and give them more TOI in comparison to the top line. It would help balance the team and give them confidence moving forward.

Phil is clearly one of 4 STAR players on the roster (would be 5 with Fleury and there is no way you can count Murray there yet). He is signed for three more seasons at a very reasonable hit for how good he is. He is a piece that, in my opinion, you build around. 

The main reason this trade idea is bad is because there is almost no way to get equal value for him; the scoring that he brings will not be replicated by anybody that we could add in a trade.

What did we lack last year in the playoffs? Oh yeah, SCORING.

I will be going over the rest of my ideas for the Penguins offseason in a separate piece, but trading Phil is not on that list. 

The Penguins are a better team with Phil Kessel on the roster, and trading him might free up some cap space and make Mike Sullivan happy, but it also makes the team WORSE at the moment while our window is still open RIGHT NOW. 

It’s not to early to hit the reset button for these players, or this core. Phil, Geno, Sid, and Letang should all sit down and talk about this shit. Maybe conference call Fleury in on it.

Anyway, there’s some background on our main man Phil the Thrill, now

Let’s delve into the bullshit that’s being peddled about him in the local media 

This is an audio file that Tim Benz and Mark Madden put out about a month ago. 

At 1:35 they start talking about the Thrill.

The way he describes Zucker in comparison to Kessel makes it clear how anti-Phil Madden is. He’s like “Zucker scored 21 goals last year, he’s not bad…But Kessel scored “only” 27 so fuck that guy!”

At 4:20 “It’s ok if you don’t hit or block shots if your other numbers match up, last year, his did not”

At 4:50-5:15  Madden downplays assistant coaches roles and says some really dumb shit about Tocchet and Phil.

Some players hit more than others, and hitting has never been Phil’s game. Could you imagine sitting down and telling a player like Artemi Panarin in a free agency meeting, “We’d love you to join the team, but one thing, you gotta hit more.”

Nobody is going to say that to Aretemi Panarin. Could you imagine somebody walking up to Patrick Kane and saying “Hey man, ya know what? I think you should hit more.”

No, because they do enough other things that it doesn’t matter that they don’t hit; it’s just not part of their game. Sid and Geno hit a little bit, but not much. Looking at the numbers they both hit more than Phil does. Same breath, they’ve both been injured way more over the course of their careers.

Whatever; none of them are known for hitting and it shouldn’t matter whether Phil hits or doesn’t because it doesn’t fucking matter if your star offensive players are throwing hits and to be honest, you probably don’t want them doing that too much because injuries.

Could you imagine a team passing on signing Artemi Panarin because he doesn’t hit enough?

No, because that’s not why you sign Artemi Panarin. The same logic applies here to the Thrill.

But, in Mark’s words, it’s ok if you don’t do those things, as long as your other numbers match up. Last year, according to Madden, Phil’s numbers didn’t match up. 

Well he definitely was a -19 on the year and his possession numbers were down a little bit. 

BUT, to the defense of one said Thrill,

  • He provided 7.7 point shares combined in offense and defense, which is good. For reference sake, Crosby just had a classic beast mode regular season and he put up 8.9. His running mate, Jake Guentzel, put up 7.2. So, yeah… Phil is a fucking beast.
  • He still had 10 Game Winning Goals to lead the team… AND the NHL

PHIL KESSEL LED THE NHL IN GWG LAST SEASON

Why is this never mentioned?

And if it were, would Mark Madden say, “Kessel led the league in GWG last season, hey, that’s NOT BAD”

Or something more like “Hey, Phil Kessel “ONLY” had 10 GWG last year so fuck him.”

The Thrill scored 27 goals total, which isn’t a shit ton, but it’s also still a fair amount. Nothing to sneeze at. Would have been pretty cool if Nick fucking Bjugstad or Bryan Rust scored 27 goals eh?

  • He was 25thin the league in overall points (82), and 19thin assists (55). 
  • He had sole possession of 5thplace in the entire NHL in Power Play Points (PPP) with 36. 

His playoff numbers were just OK but he played better than the majority of the team… and he did that all in one game (Game 1, which if we win, turns the entire series around)

Let’s take a closer look at his playoff numbers the past 4 seasons for the Penguins. 

  • 20 goals and 56 points in 65 games. That has him ranked 4thin the NHL over that span, tied with Ovechkin and less than Crosby, Couture, and Malkin. So ahead of him, we’re talking about two first ballot Hall of Famers, a guy who put up 30 in one run and the guy he’s tied with might be the best winger to ever play the game.

PRETTY GOOD COMPANY

  • Coming in hot with 10 penalty minutes TOTAL, which is a super low figure (Malkin has 93 (!!!!) in that span and Sid has 22, or double Phils). He’s a disciplined, clean player.

(Regular season in 4 years with us he has 102 penalty minutes in 328 games for an average of 25.5 per season. Last year, he had only 28.)

  • He’s a plus 11 which is tied for 15thoverall. The only other player with over 40 points and a double digit plus minus is John Carlson, who plays stud blue line minutes in Washington. 
  • He leads the NHL in PPP with 29. Backstrom and Malkin both have 27 in second place.

Oh, yeah

HE ALSO NEVER MISSES GAMES

The Thrill has played in 774 consecutive regular season games at this point and is sitting at the 8thspot all time for regular season Iron Man streak. 

Add in the 72 playoff games (clearly higher intensity contests) in that timeframe and he has played in 846 consecutive games and is still fucking trucking. 

Health is a skill, and Phil fucking HAS IT. 

In the above segment, Madden also talked down the relationship that Phil had with Tocchet. He made it seem like Tocchet’s role on the team was insignificant (which is bullshit), but he also made it seem like Phil shouldn’t have to have good relationships with the staff to have a productive career in Pittsburgh (also bullshit).

The exact quote was “As a 31 year old professional, you shouldn’t need that.”

Hey Mark, fuck you buddy. Mike Sullivan is a dick. Phil is also probably a dick, but the thing is, I find it hard to believe that he isn’t a good teammate.

I’d argue that most people would enjoy having a friend on the staff where you work who is good to you. Everybody deserves that, and it leads to a productive work atmosphere.

Mark Madden is a joke for trying to degrade that.

Here is the thing nobody is talking about currently: Phil Kessel is a phenomenal, super star talent. He is one of the most offensively gifted wingers in the entire league. He is a playoff warrior. He is somebody you BUILD around, not “try to get rid of”.

Even typing those words pisses me off for real just because of how fucking dumb they are. Like, they shouldn’t exist in the same sentence on this planet. 

Reports are all over the place, but I sure as fuck hope he sticks around.

This is a recent one.

Jim Rutherford needs to focus his attention on separate ways of clearing cap space, namely, by buying out the remainder of Jack Johnson’s contract. Come on Jim, get it together!

If we do end up trading him, however, it better be this weekend so we can sign some legitimate UFAs with the space. Guaranteed, however, that the return will NEVER be enough to justify that type of move. There’s just absolutely no way we would be able to recoup that kind of a loss in scoring prowess. 

If I were a team like Colorado, I would seriously look at Kessel here. He could help them to get to the next level. Fuck all of that though, I really don’t want to see him go.

In my mind, Phil was on his way to becoming an all-time franchise great. To take that away from him, much like shortening Fleury’s legacy here, is wrong. It sounds like something a coach who is a maniac about control would do.

To summarize, here are the reasons why keeping Phil is a much better idea than selling as low as you can on the best winger the Penguins have had since Crosby and Malkin teamed up in the 2006-07 season (13 years and counting). 

  1.  Phil’s numbers were actually REALLY GOOD last year. He put up over 80 points!
  • He made the powerplay LETHAL, one of the best in the ENTIRE league. He might be the best player with the man advantage in the NHL!
  • He has consistently performed in the PLAYOFFS where it matters the most!
  • He’s appeared in 846 consecutive games!
  • He’s only accomplished GREAT things since coming here. 

I LOVE Phil as a player. He can be inconsistent but he brings so much to the table and he makes this forward group truly special. Love him. I hope he can learn to roll with Sullivan, or at least get along with him. If Sullivan runs both Fleury and Kessel out of town, I might have to fuck him up. No lie. Better watch yourself Mike, you fuckin’ prick!

Phil is not the problem. Put a good line around him! Remember that year that Duper, Kunitz, and Crosby were the best line in the league because they trained together in the offseason and just came out guns blazing? 

That’s what I want to see next year with Phil if he stays. Just silence ‘em all man. Fuck the noise, be cool, and let’s win another Cup!

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