For Phil Kessel, it’s not so much the city, or the opportunity, but the head coach.
As whispers continue to point to a somewhat contentious relationship between Kessel and Penguins boss Mike Sullivan, Josh Yohe of The Athletic reported Tuesday that while willing to remain in Pittsburgh, Kessel would be open to a move to Arizona.
Why might you ask? His relationship with former Penguins assistant and now Coyotes head coach, Rick Tocchet.
It’s no secret that Kessel and Tocchet built a strong rapport over the course of two seasons together in Pittsburgh; Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described the Coyotes boss as “a coach, confidant and friend” of the star sniper during their time together before the Penguins and Coyotes’ first meeting last season. Instead, what’s interesting is that Kessel values the relationship enough to prefer a move from a title contender to one several steps below in terms of progression.
No doubt the Coyotes have talent and by the end of the season demonstrated that they had made strides under Tocchet over the course of the season. But the Penguins remain as talent-rich as any other team in the NHL, and will certainly be among the favourites for the Stanley Cup again after having their run of nine consecutive series wins snapped at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
There is, however, a considerable sticking point for Kessel — and perhaps the Penguins — on the count of the other interesting nugget from Yohe’s piece: the Coyotes aren’t interested.
Not because they couldn’t use the 34-goal, 92-point man coming off a career season, but because the Coyotes aren’t willing to stomach his $6.8-million price tag (which, if you remember, was slashed down from $8 million following his trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs).
Arizona informed the Penguins, according to Yohe’s sources, that hockey operations doesn’t intend to spend far beyond the salary floor this season.
Surely this is music to the ears of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who, despite the Coyotes’ reluctance to spend, was able to chip into the vault when he verbally agreed to a maximum-term contract in Arizona worth a reported total of $66 million earlier this month.
Regardless, while it appears Arizona is out of the running, Kessel’s name is being thrown around the executive group chat for a reason.
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