Mark Madden: Penguins trading Evgeni Malkin is a very real possibility
Last week, GM Jim Rutherford would not commit to keeping Evgeni Malkin in a Penguins uniform for the rest of his NHL career.
It’s not a bluff. It’s not fake news. The Penguins are willing to trade Malkin. That’s for two reasons:
• The Penguins are very unhappy with Malkin’s performance this past season and with his attitude.
Malkin averaged more than a point per game but was a team-worst minus-25, made a team-high 84 turnovers and had a team-most 89 penalty minutes. He too often dangled pointlessly and frequently made mistakes at both blue lines. Malkin scored just 21 goals, his fewest in a nonlockout year besides 2010-11, when a knee injury ended his season after 43 games (and 15 goals).
Malkin was insubordinate to coach Mike Sullivan on one documented occasion. He shows zero inclination to fix his errors. Malkin wants to play as he likes.
• The Penguins feel the return gained by trading Malkin could be the cornerstone of a mini-rebuild around Sidney Crosby.
Crosby got 100 points this past season and is a Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) finalist at 31. He is closer to the top of his game than Malkin and a better bet to remain there longer. Crosby plays 200 feet. Malkin doesn’t. Gathering youth and speed around Crosby might lead to another good run for the Penguins in a few years.
If the Penguins choose instead to stick with the current core for old time’s sake, they could hit a wall like Chicago and Los Angeles after their Stanley Cup seasons. (That might be happening already and might be inevitable.)
So the Penguins are willing to investigate trading Malkin, if not outright shop him around.
But two factors likely will prevent a deal:
• Malkin has a full no-movement clause and shows no inclination to leave Pittsburgh. When he does depart, it likely would be to finish his playing days in his native Russia.
• Return offered for Malkin — coming off a disappointing year and who will be 33 at the start of the 2019-20 campaign — probably will not be enough for the Penguins to make such a major move. It’s not like Malkin’s age and recent subpar play are a secret.
The Penguins must be careful about attempting to trade Malkin. Once the topic is broached with Malkin because of his no-movement clause, the relationship between team and player might fracture.
If Malkin declines to be dealt, or the Penguins can’t make the swap they want, what is Malkin’s attitude like? It’s already not great.
The Penguins might well rethink this. Executing a deal like this would not be easy or popular. (But make no mistake, Crosby sells the tickets. Not Malkin.)
It would be better if Malkin fixed his game and performed better. But the Penguins hardly are convinced that will happen.
If the Penguins adopt more structure, which might be the best bet for improvement if they stick with a lineup that’s slowing down, Malkin surely would balk mightily.
How this plays out seems utterly up in the air. Perhaps Rutherford can finagle what adjustments he desires through other means.
At one time, the Penguins would have hesitated to deal a superstar because of the damage the franchise sustained when Jaromir Jagr was traded to Washington in 2001. But the Penguins do not feel the current situation with Malkin is comparable.