Call it a hunch.
Maybe I’m wrong. Reading too much into something simple.
Or maybe not.
I sense a rift, if you will, an imbalance in the Penguins’ cosmos between the head coach and the general manager.
I have been feeling this for weeks, really since the start of the season, and the Carl Hagelin to Los Angeles for some guy trade has fueled my speculative fire.
I don’t think Sully and JR are on the same page. Not about the makeup of the team, not about the way certain players are being used, not about why they are losing.
Sully talks often about paying attention to details, but he never mentions how soft the Pens play, especially in front of their goaltender. He has talked about consistency, or the lack of consistency in play, but he never really mentions the lack of five-on-five scoring.
I never liked Hagelin on the second line. He cannot shoot the puck. I get that he is fast, but he is a prototypical third-liner at best. I am speculating JR never liked Hagelin on the second line, either, and this trade is a clear signal that he is done watching it.
He kind of said it, too, didn’t he? The whole, “I’m usually a pretty patient guy, but right now I’m out of patience,” remark.
Sullivan is a smart man and couches everything, so he put a nice, positive spin on things, but he used the royal, “We,” when talking about the trade being a message that everyone has to get better.
Hagelin may have been the collateral damage in the rift, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it centers more around Daniel Sprong than anyone. Rutherford made no bones before the season when he said Sprong would be a big part of the team in 2018-2019, and Sullivan has made it clear, mostly by playing Sprong on the fourth line, limiting his minutes, and scratching him in recent days for the likes of, I can’t believe I’m going to type this, Zach Aston-Reese and Derek Grant, that he does not like Sprong’s game.
Sprong deserves more than a cup of coffee with the top two lines – he is fast and has a scoring touch – he should get a serious look there. For a team desperate for even-strength goal-scoring, there is no reason to do otherwise.
Again, maybe I am wrong, but I smell a rat in Penguinville. Hopefully the head coach and the GM can sort it all out before the season gets away from all involved.