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The latest on the potential Ian Cole trade situation

There’s a lot of confusing reports coming out about Ian Cole and his status with the Penguins. We break it all down in a simple manner and give a clear look on the possibilities moving forward

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What’s the latest on Ian Cole and his status with the Penguins? A soap opera like swirl of the trade rumors has swept over in the last 18 hours. Let’s try to get caught up to where things look like they stand as of early Tuesday afternoon.

From Jason Mackey who’s really been leading the charge:

The relationship between Cole and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had become strained.

Look strictly at numbers, and you might have some questions over why this move is necessary.

But if the player and coach simply don’t get along … what are you going to do?

One source characterized this as the classic clash of personalities and said it had simply gotten to the point where a trade would be best for everyone involved.

Cole was among the most well-liked people in the Penguins dressing room, by external and internal media and team staffers. His chattiness, however, runs counter to the way Sullivan likes to conduct business — smart and well-articulated, but also saying very little.

Many have speculated a trade could be impending as a result. Cole has been a healthy scratch the last 3 games.

But recently Bob McKenzie added his meaningful 2 cents in a series of tweets that to mash together look like this:

I am not as convinced as some that PIT trading D Ian Cole is a foregone conclusion. It absolutely could happen - he’s a healthy scratch, on the outs with coach Mike Sullivan - but IMO it’s not guaranteed he gets traded.

For starters, PIT will be looking for a healthy return on Cole, likely a quality centre. Not easy to come by. I don’t believe Cole is being scratched “to protect the asset for trade” as much as the coach doesn’t want to play him at a this time.

This isn’t first time in PIT Cole has been healthy scratch and on outs with coach. In previous instances, he got back into the lineup. If the right trade isn’t there, I wonder if (getting back into lineup) could happen again.

I don’t believe for a minute PIT is worried about losing Cole, a pending UFA, for nothing in off-season. PIT is in biz to win the Cup, doesn’t worry about UFAs walking (see Kunitz, Bonino, Cullen, Hainsey etc). If he’s traded, that won’t be the reason. The return will be.

Anyway, that’s my take, FWIW. Cole absolutely could be traded but it has to be for right offer. Those are easier said than done sometimes. If PIT thinks it’s in its best interest to trade him, they will. If they think it’s in best interest to put him back into lineup, they will.

McKenzie’s take makes a lot of sense and does put a damper on the sense that momentum was building towards an immediate trade.

So what’s the bottom line? Reading between all the reports it looks like:

1 – Obviously right now, Mike Sullivan has little use for Cole as a player. He’s made him a healthy scratch because he likes Chad Ruhwedel as a RH shot and his game lately. Sullivan also mentioned this week he likes Matt Hunwick’s mobility. Hunwick and Cole are fairly similar players, but Hunwick does get around the ice a little better and more freely. So, as it stands to Mike Sullivan, Cole is his #7 defenseman.

2- This is awkward for Cole, who isn’t really playing poorly, and seems to have some value on the trading market

3 – GM Rutherford realizes they have this piece who isn’t being used by the coach, and might have value. But according to McKenzie (which makes logical sense), this isn’t a case right now were Rutherford absolutely, 100%, no-doubt-about-it is planning on trading Cole right now. The Penguins need to get enough of a return to make trading Cole make sense.

This seems like where we are. Reports have been confirmed numerous places (Mackey, Friedman, Katie Brown) that Cole’s agent has approval to talk to other teams. This alone seems like a very advanced step for a trade, but we’re not past a “point of no return” for Cole as a Penguin this season.

It makes sense for Rutherford to allow Cole’s agent to see who is interested. If a team is willing to do a sign-and-trade with Cole right now, they can take comfort in knowing they’re getting Cole for many years and be willing to pay more in a trade to acquire his services from Pittsburgh, rather than if Cole were an impending UFA. Rutherford is using the agent basically to make Cole even more attractive to another team.

Will it work? Well, that’s in limbo. The options now look like:

A – another team is willing to pay a price high enough for Rutherford to feel it’s OK to trade Cole.

B – Cole is a healthy scratch until an injury makes his services needed in the Pens lineup. Which would be awkward since it’s pretty much publicly known now that the coach doesn’t really favor the player’s game/attitude/whatever.

It seemed 12 hours ago that option A was the only option, but as McKenzie points out, losing free agents is nothing new for the Pens. It certainly seems like the best resolution would be a trade at this point, but Pittsburgh’s doesn’t have a ton of defensive depth and is an oft-injured team. Ian Cole certainly won’t be a Penguin after June 30, 2018 when he hits free agency, but it’s not quite so certain at this point if his departure is imminent.

Trades can manifest quickly, and certainly Cole’s agent looking for a new team does signal the Penguins are very much open to dealing him. However, it’s nice to see that the team is prudent enough to realize that they need the right return for Cole and aren’t going to trade him simply because he is on the outs with the coach.