According to a report from The Athletic's Rob Rossi this week, Evgeni Malkin played a role in facilitating the offseason trade that sent Kessel from Pittsburgh to the Arizona Coyotes. Citing multiple team sources, that report suggests Malkin told the Penguins to trade him if they planned on keeping Kessel around for another season.
That's a rather interesting development considering Malkin and Kessel often played alongside one another on the Penguins' second line and had plenty of success working with each other. However, the two had something of a falling out last season and Kessel's rocky, combustible relationship with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan apparently wore on Malkin, enough to the point where he felt change was needed one way or another.
From The Athletic:
Malkin declined to elaborate on how his on-ice relationship with Kessel fell apart. But it's clear he grew tired of feeling caught between the ongoing Sullivan-Kessel rift, according to multiple team and league sources. Those sources also say Malkin had come to believe Kessel was content with two titles and mostly interested in his statistics. Malkin was worried he'd be seen the same way if Kessel remained his winger.
Multiple team sources say Malkin requested a trade if Kessel was to return.
Malkin denies making such a request, but it's not certainly not impossible to believe that he had enough of playing alongside Kessel. Though the two highly skilled offensive players often showed great chemistry and found plenty of productivity together -- including back-to-back Stanley Cup titles -- they also seemed to have a volatile and explosive relationship, occasionally getting into spats with one another on the Penguins' bench when things weren't going well.
Still, despite the reported falling out, Malkin maintains that his friendship with the winger is real and that he never asked out of Pittsburgh -- the only place he's called home during his 13-year NHL career.
In any case, Kessel now resides in Arizona, where he reunites with Coyotes coach and former Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet. It's well-documented that Kessel and Tocchet share a strong relationship, with Tocchet serving as Kessel's primary mentor and outlet during the Penguins' championships in 2016 and 2017. Their bond is likely a big reason why Kessel was willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Coyotes after previously rejecting a trade to the Minnesota Wild.