The captain will be back for a 19th professional season.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins announced Monday that Tom Kostopoulos has signed a one-year AHL contract with the team for the 2017-18 season.
After the way Kostopoulos performed during the regular season and the Penguins disappointing early exit in this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs, the announcement didn’t come as a surprise to those who know the 38-year-old forward well.
“We had a great regular season,” the Penguins all-time leader in goals, assists and points told members of the media on Monday. “It was something to finish in first place with all the changes and movement on the team this year, (but) to then go out in the first round was kind of disappointing.
“It was one of the more disappointing playoffs that I’ve had with this team. So, I kind of didn’t want to leave the game that way. I’ve been talking to management and I … was happy that they wanted me to come back; and (I’ve been) talking to some of my teammates and obviously my wife and my kids and it seems to work for (them) so I’m happy to come back and play another year.”
Kostopoulos, who will enter his 11th year with the Penguins organization, turned in his most productive season in a decade this past year, leading the team in goals (24), and points (54).
The 24 goals were the most he’d scored in a Penguins uniform since he found the back of the net 27 times during the 2001-02 season.
However, in five playoffs games against the Providence Bruins, Kostopoulos was held to just two assists.
“I felt pretty good about my regular season,” he said. “I was kind of disappointed with my personal (production in the) playoffs, so I think both of those played a part in me coming back here.
“But … I had fun. I think I can still compete at this level and I still enjoy it. It’s boring right now that hockey’s done. I like coming to the rink every day. I like being around the guys and around the sport, so I’m happy to be signing and playing for another year.”
Here’s some more highlights from Kostopoulos’ interview with the media this morning:
How did your desire to win a Calder Cup factor in the decision to come back?
TK: It’s big. I’d like to win, but I don’t want to put everything on that because there’s a lot more things going on here and a big part of this team is moving guys up to the next level and developing guys. A championship would be huge and great, but it’s not the only thing. I think it’s important to have a fun atmosphere here where guys can develop and move up … and with that we will try to win.
How big was it to have your family supporting you in this decision?
TK: It’s huge. When we’re here, we’re keeping our kids away from their grandparents and their family and friends. They’ve made new friends in town that they get to see and they like to see, so my kids are on board. It’s a big sacrifice for my wife (but) she’s willing to do it for another year so I think if it didn’t work for them I would have hung them up, but it does and they’re all for it, so it’s fun for me.”
Are you having fun being a leader for these young guys and is that a role you’d like to return to?
TK: Yeah, I really get a kick out of it. Watching guys excel in Pittsburgh now that were here in Wilkes-Barre at one time is fun. Watching Jake Guentzel lead the playoffs in goal scoring, that’s pretty impressive. I feel like half that Pittsburgh team developed here in Wilkes-Barre, so it’s neat to see that; and you can see that the scouts have done a great job of bringing in a fresh group of new young guys here and you can see them develop and get better every day. It’s fun for me to watch that and try to help them if I can and then even the older guys in this room, I get to watch them develop as leaders, and then they take over more of a leadership role, it’s fun.
Have you talked with (assistant coach) Chris Taylor about what it takes to play at this age?
TK: Yeah, I talked to him a lot this year. That’s probably another reason why I started to consider coming back. He said he misses it. He told me to play as long as you can. He said that he would have played longer if he could go back. I also talked to him about how he took care of his body and things he did differently. I think when you’re my age, or his age when he played, you’ve got to do things a little bit differently to get your body ready for a 76-game schedule.
One more season right? You’re not coming back for two years, right?
TK: Yeah, one year.
How long did it take teammates like Tom Sestito and company to reach out to see what your plans would be?
TK: Once the season was over we got together a few times as a team and talked with the guys. Tom was in my ear a little bit and some of the other guys were saying ‘Why quit now?’ My teammates perspective definitely weighed a lot in my decision. I think if they were looking at me like, ‘Eh maybe it’s time,’ I probably would have hung it up. But it’s fun to have their support and know that you’re wanted here.
What did the conversations about coming back go like with your kids?
TK: I was just trying to explain to them that this lifestyle gives me time with them most afternoons. Although I miss a lot of their sports on weekends during the season, I get almost every weeknight with them and I can pick them up from school and stuff like that. Once I’m done (with) hockey that will change. I’m just trying to explain to them where we are at in our lives and they’re on board with it. They have fun and like coming to the games. They love their school here. They have friends and my wife has made friends here. This whole community has been good to my family, so I think that’s what makes it work.”