In the end, a deal wasn't consummated and Kesler finished out the season in Vancouver, where the Canucks missed the playoffs, but there is a belief that the Penguins might take another run at acquiring the two-time U.S. Olympian before the draft in late June. But what if they didn't need to? What if Sutter's Game 1 heroics were the start of something defining for Sutter and, by extension, this franchise?
"I definitely want to be the best player I can be. Obviously, here with Sid and Geno down the middle, it's kind of a three-center model they've had here for a while, and I'm glad to be part of that," Sutter said Friday. "Yeah, you definitely want to be the best you can be, and if I'm here playing with those guys, I know that's where I'm going to be. And if I can be the best in the league at that, that's great. I guess that is something for me to work towards."
It's not that Sutter, the 11th overall pick in the 2007 draft who came to the Penguins in the blockbuster deal that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina at the 2012 draft, hasn't done what's been asked of him.
Head coach Dan Bylsma said there was a period of adjustment that lasted perhaps 40 games while Sutter learned the different schemes that the Penguins employed. And this season, with the Pens decimated by injuries, finding regular linemates has also been a challenge. But Bylsma said Sutter has been a good fit and throughout the injury-plagued season, Sutter's role as the team's third-line center hasn't changed.
"And I think he fits extremely well in that role, a third-line center, ability to play in all situations, defensive situations for our team, he's been a huge part of our penalty kill and the success of our penalty kill," Bylsma said. "He's always been a guy, when he's scored a goal, it's always been a big goal.
"He's right around the number he seems to be always be at, the 12 to 15 goals a year but they always seem to be big goals and it was no different in Game 1 for us."
But is that enough for this team? The pursuit of Kesler would appear to suggest it is not. But those feelings could change as the Penguins try to return to a finals for the first time since 2009. When it became clear that Staal wanted a change of scenery, general manager Ray Shero dealt him to Carolina, where he has played alongside older brother and Canes captain Eric Staal.
To expect Sutter to simply fill the void left by Staal's absence wasn't truly part of the plan and would have been patently unfair. They are two different types of players, Staal a more imposing physical presence, who in the 2009 finals was the best player on the ice for either team. And there are lots of elements to Sutter's game that make him an attractive part of the Penguins' arsenal, and there are elements to his game that are still evolving and improving.
"He's got probably one of the heavier shots on our team. I think that's why you see him score those goals," Bylsma said, when asked about whether there is more for Sutter to achieve. "I think, to me, another part of the evolution of his game and another plateau of his game is getting the goals that aren't so pretty."
Bylsma pointed to the Penguins' second goal in Game 1, a crucial power-play goal by Bennett that came shortly after Columbus had opened up a 3-1 lead with a shorthanded goal.