It wouldn’t be the first time in the history of sports that someone has asked the question, ‘Who wins the battle in the eyes of management or ownership, the player or the coach?’. In sports like basketball, where one player can make a drastic difference to a team, the player often in wins.
In hockey, it certainly happens. Perhaps, just not as often.
In Pittsburgh, media and fans might be asking that question as news that the coaching staff — outside of head coach Mike Sullivan — were all removed in a sweeping overhaul of the messaging that will be sent to the players moving forward and after a disappointing season. More specifically, most of the conversation revolves around Evgeni Malkin who is close friends with the now-unemployed Sergei Gonchar.
Josh Yohe and Rob Rossi of The Athletic (subscription required) discussed speculation that Malkin might be upset with the Penguins organization for choosing to release Gonchar. The two are extremely close and there’s been a public discussion over the past year that perhaps Sullivan and Malkin aren’t always on the same page.
This has led to questions about whether or not the friction between the two will amp up and if there should be concern that Malkin may request a change of scenery.
The scribes write, “Many around the hockey world — including current and former members of the Penguins’ organization — were stunned by Gonchar’s dismissal.” That, would logically, include Malkin.
Good News for Penguins Fans
It might make sense Penguins fans who want Malkin on their team might be concerned. After all, if the club removed a coach that, by most accounts, was universally respected as a good coach, only to find out that Malkin took that personally, it would be terrible news.
But, according to the article, there should be no reason for worry. They explain:
Though Gonchar is particularly close to Malkin, his dismissal is not a signal of renewed strain between Malkin and Sullivan. Management believes Malkin respects Sullivan, that any disputes are mostly the result of differing personalities occasionally clashing — “healthy tension,” as described by one team employee.
They also note that management is keenly interested in keeping Malkin paired with Sidney Crosby for the long haul and the team has no desire to split them up unless Malkin insists on a trade. Crosby is of the same feeling. He doesn’t want Malkin to go, but wouldn’t stop him from leaving should he ever ask out.
Even better news is, that’s not likely to happen. They write, “Malkin has no desire to be traded and at a season-ending meeting reiterated his desire to finish his NHL career with the Penguins.”
What About a Trade Unrelated to the Coaching Situation?
As for whether or not GM Jim Rutherford might be looking to shake up the core of the team after an early exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, Rutherford said:
“I plan to move forward with the core. These are good players. They still have good hockey left in them. I always have to say, if some amazing trade comes along, you have to look at it, but I will not actively be looking at trying to trade our core players.”
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