It appears that trouble may have been brewing for the Pittsburgh Penguins — and it reportedly got intense.
The Athletic’s Rob Rossi reported that multiple team sources said that Evgeni Malkin requested a trade if they kept Phil Kessel on for the 2019-20 season. The Russian center reportedly felt that he was caught in the middle of Kessel and head coach Mike Sullivan’s rocky relationship.
“By the end of last season, everybody from ownership to management to coaches believed Kessel had to go for Malkin to stay,” Rossi wrote in a feature article that came out Tuesday.
On June 30, Kessel, along with prospect blueliner Dane Bicks and a 2021 fourth-rounder, was shipped to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
The two had been teammates since Kessel was brought on board in the 2015 offseason Over their last four seasons together, they won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017 and ultimately became linemates. In 2018-19, Kessel and Malkin combined for 154 points last season, with each notching 82 and 72 points, respectively.
However, despite their chemistry, Rossi said sources told him that Malkin thought that Kessel was more focused on his individual statistics rather than going for another title.
“Malkin was worried he’d be seen the same way if Kessel remained his winger,” Rossi explained in his piece.
Although Malkin denied the claims, Rossi did write that the 33-year-old didn’t want to play with Kessel on his wing regardless.
Malkin saw a significant drop in performance this past season after previously having put up 98 points in 2017-18.
Back in March, Kessel had nothing but good things to say about his former linemate, calling him a “world-class player” and saying he does “everything good,” as per the Penguins’ Twitter.
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