Vegas Golden Knights one of 3 teams pursuing Penguins’ Ian Cole, per report

Well, this is certainly interesting.

It isn’t common for a team to trade one of its top defenders after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, but it looks like the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the verge of doing just that.

According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Penguins are dead-set on moving defenseman Ian Cole. And it appears there are three teams looking to make a move for Cole — the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vegas Golden Knights.

It won’t be a Metropolitan Division team. The primary suitors at this point appear to be Las Vegas, Colorado and Toronto.

It’s unclear the player the Penguins may be targeting in those talks, and whether or not he plays center.

But the Penguins and Cole’s agent, Kevin Magnusson, are working together on this deal, so you can expect a resolution in fairly short order.

Cole played a major role in both of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup runs the last two seasons. He is a fearless, physical defender who blocks shots routinely and has become an ace on the Penguins’ penalty kill. He is also regarded as a one of the more popular members of the Pittsburgh locker room.

During the 2016-17 season, Cole set career-highs in goals (5), assists (21) and plus-minus (plus-26). He is in the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $2.1 million and will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

So why exactly are the Penguins trying to move one of their top defenseman? As Mackey explained in his report, it all comes down to his relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan.

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.

While it appears the stars are aligning for a Cole trade, nothing is totally set in stone quite yet. According to a series of tweets by NHL insider Bob McKenzie, it is still possible the Penguins could opt to keep Cole.

Here are all of McKenzie’s tweets conjoined (hat tip to our friends over at Pensburgh).

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.

Clearly there’s still a lot of grey area here. But the fact that the Penguins are at least entertaining the idea of moving Cole — and that the Golden Knights could be interested in making a move for him — is certainly worth noting.