Kevin Gorman: Penguins GM playing with poker face on trading Phil Kessel |
Kevin Gorman, Columnist

Kevin Gorman: Penguins GM playing with poker face on trading Phil Kessel

Kevin Gorman
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford speaks to the media during a news conference Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Phil Kessel raises the Cupafter beating the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final Sunday, June 11 , 2017 at Bridgestone Arena.

Phil Kessel pulled a page out of the playbook of another Pittsburgh sports superstar, using his leverage like Antonio Brown to kill a trade before it could be finalized.

Difference is, Jim Rutherford didn’t cave like Kevin Colbert.

Where the Steelers general manager stayed true to his word about trading Brown, the Penguins general manager is calling Kessel’s bluff with one of his own.

Don’t believe for a second that the Penguins are planning to keep Kessel, regardless of Rutherford’s comment Tuesday to the Tribune-Review that “it looks like he’ll stay here.”

That’s public posturing at its best, playing with a poker face.

These are Rutherford’s words that ring true: “When the player starts dictating which way the trade’s going to go, it doesn’t work out for the team.”

Where Colbert allowed Brown to dictate terms of his deal, Rutherford has no intent on giving Kessel the upper hand. The Penguins are looking to improve, not implode after a first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That’s where Colbert made a mistake. He allowed Brown to deny a swap of first-round draft picks with Buffalo with the demand for a new contract. By raising his rate, Brown lowered his trade value and any leverage the Steelers had in trading a seven-time Pro Bowl and four-time All-Pro wide receiver.

But the Steelers just wanted to be rid of Brown, so Colbert accepted a trade with Oakland for third- and fifth-round picks.

After Kessel used his limited no-trade clause to turn down a trade to Minnesota, Rutherford turned the tables. He left Kessel with two choices: Either Kessel can play for the Penguins next season or he can show some flexibility with his no-trade clause.

Typically, players of Kessel’s caliber – a three-time All-Star and point-per-game scorer – manipulate a limited no-trade clause by allowing deals to teams that are unlikely trade partners. Kessel’s eight-team list could include rival teams within the Metropolitan Division or the Eastern Conference that play the Penguins.

By threatening to keep Kessel, Rutherford is raising the stakes. He’s not giving away an 82-point scorer for nothing, even if it means keeping a player the Penguins were shopping. It sends a clear message to any suitors that a suitable offer is required.

But it also sends a message to Kessel. If he stays with the Penguins, he has to play by coach Mike Sullivan’s rules. Otherwise, Kessel can cooperate and help the Penguins find a trade partner willing to give up something significant in return.

Can’t wait to see who folds first.

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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