After departure of Rick Tocchet, could Pens' Phil Kessel be on the trading block?

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have lost Phil Kessel's chief mentor when Rick Tocchet was officially hired as the Arizona Coyotes head coach on Tuesday.

Now, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook, Kessel might be on the trading block.

"I believe Phil Kessel will be traded," Cook wrote. "It might not happen this week or this month or even this offseason. But I believe it will happen sooner rather than later. Tocchet's departure could hasten the process."

The 29-year-old Kessel, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015 and a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate during the first of two Stanley Cup runs with the Pens, topped 20 goals in 2016-17 and had a game winner during the Eastern Conference Finals in May.

But the former Boston Bruins winger, who "often drives (Pens coach Mike) Sullivan crazy," according to Cook, may be primed for a rather abrupt departure thanks to apparent chemistry concerns and a weighty contract that overshadows Kessel's performance.

"It was clear in June, by the end of the Penguins' second consecutive Stanley Cup run, that the organization wasn't thrilled with Kessel," Cook said. "Even though he had 23 points in the 25 postseason games, it was hard to find anyone in organization to say he was playing well. My belief is Evgeni Malkin wasn't thrilled to play on the same line with Kessel. And Sidney Crosby? Sullivan acknowledged Crosby and Kessel have no chemistry together. None."

Now, Cook is a columnist. And columnists are often tasked with blending opinion -- sensational opinion, at that -- with reality. There's also the fact that Kessel scored just two fewer goals than Malkin, whose contract isn't exactly on the cheap side, either. So assuming that the Pens are frustrated enough to deal away one of their most talented scorers in the same offseason they lost both Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley simply because Cook said so is, well, quite a stretch.

If anything, though, it's fair to wonder whether or not Tocchet's departure as assistant coach will affect Kessel on the ice. If, say, the staff change-up drastically impacts Kessel in the worst way, then, perhaps, a trade could truly be on the horizon.

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