Starkey: Farewell, Tyler Kennedy
Could we at least say a proper goodbye?
Tyler Kennedy did.
“Pittsburgh's been a second home to me,” Kennedy said a few days after his trade to the San Jose Sharks last weekend. “I'm dating a girl from Pittsburgh now. It's a great town, and it'll always be a part of me.”
It was, quite obviously, time for Kennedy to go. Once the right winger on the best third line in hockey, he had become an expensive afterthought. Other players had to be signed.
General manager Ray Shero handled the situation classily, as he always does. He and Kennedy met after the season, Shero indicating he would look for a decent landing spot.
“Ray and I had a good talk,” Kennedy said. “He's been very respectful, and he put me in a great situation. He kind of knew I had to move to a place with a little better of a chance. I kind of fell off the map here.”
Look, I know Kennedy hit the goalie's logo too often. I know he drove fans crazy by shooting too much (likely the same fans who scream at players for shooting too little. And I know he scored just six goals in 46 games in reduced ice time last season.
It just seemed like his departure merited more than a few buried mentions in the news cycle and what felt like a collective “good riddance” from the fan base.
Certainly, Kris Letang's contract saga and another dramatic Pirates victory were the stories of the day Sunday. But this wasn't Nils Ekman leaving. This was a guy who scored three game-winning goals on the Penguins' march to a Stanley Cup in 2009 and has six playoff game-winners overall (one more than Sidney Crosby).
This was a player who had seven goals and 14 points in his final 22 playoff games here — covering the past three seasons — and poured his heart into every shift. Kennedy was the rarest of Penguins — one who consistently earned his keep in the postseason.
So how do you say goodbye? You pull out the photo album. Three snapshots that will stay with me:
• Kennedy's third-period jam shot in Game 6 against the Red Wings in 2009, one of the great home wins in franchise history.
With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the midst of going goal-less over the final three games, the third line stole Game 6. Jordan Staal (Kennedy first assist) scored the Penguins' first goal. Kennedy netted the eventual winner in a pulsating, 2-1 victory.
“My biggest one, by far,” he said.
• Kennedy's season-saving effort against the Flyers in Game 5 last year.
With the Penguins desperately trying to stave off elimination, trailing 2-1 after two periods and getting nothing from their stars, Kennedy came through. He set up Staal's tying goal and ripped the game-winner past Ilya Bryzgalov (did the Penguins really lose to him?) three minutes later.
• Kennedy scoring what might have become a legendary goal against the Islanders two months ago.
I spoke with Kennedy earlier in the series, when he was a healthy scratch, and he said, “I'll be ready when they call my name, and I'll play great.”
He was right. He might have saved that series — not to mention Dan Bylsma's job — with his liberating, tension-busting breakaway goal in the second period of Game 5.
One other notable Kennedy goal: He notched the Penguins' first at Consol Energy Center. Kennedy's best season doubled as a set-up for a letdown. With Crosby and Malkin injured in 2010-11, he scored a career-best 21 goals, including seven on the power play.
The Penguins signed him to a two-year, $4 million contract — a good deal if you measure it by Kennedy's playoff production. He was not going to score 21 goals again, because his power-play time understandably shrank to nothing.
In the end, Kennedy wasn't the same player without sidekick Staal, but he does go down as an excellent fourth-round pick (99th overall) by the Craig Patrick regime in 2004.
“Obviously, it's sad being traded,” Kennedy said. “But not many players get through their whole career without going through it.”
Farewell, Tyler Kennedy (Kenneddeeeeee!). Fare well.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.