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Details emerging on Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel’s apparent rocky, complicated relationship

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From reports it looked like the Pens’ marriage with Phil Kessel was doomed to end once relations soured with Mike Sullivan and Evgeni Malkin

Pittsburgh Penguins v Winnipeg Jets

The Athletic’s Rob Rossi got a really good story about Evgeni Malkin’s mental state and mindset as he retreated to Russia this summer seeking to re-establish his fitness and re-find his game. It’s a terrific, tremendous article that you should read.

One of the juiciest nuggets was the Malkin / Phil Kessel relationship, that according to Rossi escalated to a “one of them has to go” situation.

While that seems very drastic, down the line Malkin’s quoted as saying he wants to re-sign with the Penguins when his contract ends in three seasons after the 2021-22 season.

“It’s (a) huge next three years,” Malkin says. “I still want to play 100 percent — and sign (for) three more years with Pittsburgh.”

So I mean take of that what you will if Malkin was really ever to the point of trying to angle out of Pittsburgh. Feels a bit over-dramatic to make a nice story and grab a headline, but hey.

Bottom line is it certainly looks as if Phil Kessel’s stint in Pittsburgh was always going to be over due to off-ice attitudes, behavior and personalities that just weren’t going to be able and last coinciding with personalities like Malkin and coach Mike Sullivan.

It’s also a bit odd the way things clashed and somehow Malkin was in the middle of trying to get the best of Kessel on the ice while he and the coach were butting heads and going through whatever issues that they had.

As if that wasn’t enough that, there was also issues with Malkin and Sullivan too all brewing at the same time, with neither happy with the other and some butting of heads:

He grew distant. He fought with his coach. He lost faith in his winger. He looked like a “regular player.”

Malkin was unrecognizable in almost every way. To himself most of all.

“I think my head starts, like, (getting) crazy,” Malkin says, “I fight with Sully. I fight with teammates. A little bit upset at everyone.”

Malkin’s fights with his coach, Mike Sullivan, were about ice time. Malkin lobbied for around 20 minutes and he wanted to play when opponents pulled their goalie. Sullivan needed to see the Malkin from the Penguins’ championship runs in 2016 and 2017. He wanted to trust Malkin in the crucial moments of games. He wanted Malkin to give what captain Sidney Crosby was giving the Penguins every game. He needed to eliminate blind passes to the middle of the ice.

Malkin played 18:48 in the regular season and 18:43 in the short playoff. Later in the article it was mentioned again at an off-season meeting Malkin told Sullivan to play him 20 minutes a night.

Is removing Kessel from the equation and the mix enough to straighten all this out and settle things down? As noted, Malkin had real issues with his decision making and puck management that one can’t simply just cast off as being Sullivan or Kessel or even Jack Johnson’s fault:

There were also struggles for Malkin with his family life, with his wife and young son splitting time between Pittsburgh, Miami and Russia and Sergei Gonchar — considered like family to Malkin — spending time in Dallas as well as Pittsburgh. This seems to have created a lonely environment for Malkin in a drab, rainy year in western PA, still very much isolated and a stranger in a strange land.

In that regard, perhaps adding a Russian-speaking Alex Galchenyuk to the mix will help bridge a divide for Malkin to have a new face and voice to hear that will be around.

Malkin seemed to re-commit himself to his fitness and best of all might be this quote about finding his hunger and his goal for the future

“My desire is to win a fourth Cup,” Malkin says. “It’s, like, not many Russians with four Cups. I would be (the) only one. This is my target right now.”

Only time will tell if the Penguins’ 2019-20 season is less tumultuous than the way the 2018-19 season ended, but the re-tooling to focus on adding more youth and speed in players like Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun and Brandon Tanev makes a bit more sense to get a reset for a player like Malkin.