We can reasonably put to rest any Evgeni Malkin-Pittsburgh Penguins trade rumors. The Sundance Kid to Sidney Crosby’s Butch Cassidy is sticking around in Pittsburgh because that is what he wants. Opportunities to wear the C with another team came and went, and even his wife expressed a desire to see him be a solo star, but Malkin held firm in Pittsburgh.
But there is one more obstacle to retiring as Penguin: Evgeni Malkin’s contract.
Malkin’s slightly below market value deal which carries a cap hit of $9.5 million, expires July 1, 2022 (assuming we wrap up the season on time and things are indeed back to normal. God help us). So, beginning on July 28, the Pittsburgh Penguins can begin negotiations with Malkin regarding a contract for the rest of his career.
There also remains one variable out of both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Evgeni Malkin’s control: Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin will sign a new deal with the Washington Capitals (probably) after the July 21 expansion draft (probably), and it will carry him to the end of his Capitals career (probably).
If Ovechkin breaks the bank one more time, that raises the stakes for Malkin. He’s shouldered the snubs of being left off the Top 100 list, being in Crosby’s shadow in Pittsburgh, and being in Ovechkin’s shadow in Moscow.
If Ovechkin gets a sweet deal, surely Malkin can’t take pennies on the dollar to ride into the sunset with Butch, right?
However, Pittsburgh Hockey Now polled the more senior members of the National Hockey Now network, folks who have been around the block more than a few times and usually know their stuff.
“He has value to a team on the verge, but those teams are usually up against it,” one of our respected panelists opined. “His past few years don’t justify the money he thinks he is worth. He would make a lot more (with a team like) Ottawa.”
Our four senior panelists lowballed Malkin’s next contract number anywhere from $3 million to $4.5 million.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s analysis and gut feeling were well higher. The league didn’t take enough notice of Malkin tearing through defensemen in 2019-20 en route to 74 points in 55 games. We were also impressed with his hot-knife-through-butter offensive tear with Kasperi Kapanen.
Malkin had a slow start this season, in large part because ice surfaces weren’t open in Russia, and travel to the U.S. from abroad wasn’t easy. Once Malkin got in shape, his statistics quickly caught up to his talent level. He scored 28 points in 33 games (8-20-28) before a mid-March collision with Boston Bruins defender Jared Tinordi tore up his knee.
Both of Malkin’s last two seasons were cut short with injuries. This latest knee surgery is serious and will keep Malkin out beyond the start of training camp in September.
Another estimate from an esteemed colleague with more than 30-years experience in the business put Malkin’s value at $4 million for two more years, which would carry him to nearly 38-years-old.
“The rate for past-their-prime stars should be $3 million, but I would give more to Malkin because he has been a top five star who still has some gas in the tank,” another panelist opined. “A $4 million deal shows respect, and it’s a salary that fits easily into a salary cap.”
In fact, it was unanimous amongst our hockey people that Evgeni Malkin would make less than $5 million and closer to $4 million on his next deal.
Perhaps akin to Malkin’s lesser reputation around the league than in Pittsburgh, there were multiple questions if Malkin would retire to the KHL after next season. Countryman and elite center Pavel Datsyuk bolted for the homeland at 38-years-old.
Malkin is one of Russian dictator, er, President Vladimir Putin’s supporters, though Malkin is far less outspoken than Ovechkin. And Malkin certainly hasn’t criticized Putin for his human rights abuses like Russian winger Artemi Panarin (nor had to take a leave of absence following retribution for such).
Put a pin in that.
In the end, Datsyuk was also slowed by injuries, but Malkin’s shoulder, wrist, and knee surgeries are mounting fast.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a tough spot on the next Malkin contract. He showed loyalty and has performed as well as his body will allow. Three Stanley Cups. And, he bought into Mike Sullivan. The goal has been to retire as a Penguins, to achieve that rarest of accomplishments in a salary cap and free agent age, to retire having played with only the Penguins.
If he’s worth $4 million, is that a conversation Penguins general manager Ron Hextall, President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, or even owner Mario Lemieux wants to have with Malkin? Lemieux knows firsthand how money can sour a relationship with a proud star player.
See also: Jaromir Jagr.
Though in Jagr’s case, the Penguins agreed to a contract they later could not afford, and Jagr took one for the team by agreeing to be traded (though that didn’t stop fans from blaming him with years with booing when he touched the puck for the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers).
There were still hard feelings abound, and Jagr’s name still is not in the Penguins ring of honor. *Ahem.
PHN was prepared to place Malkin’s value in the $7 million range for two years. That’s what a second-line center capable of 75 points costs. But will the Penguins repay the favor? Can they afford to do so with a full market contract, or perhaps one above what our group thinks is feasible?
Now we can take that pin out of the Putin issue. Putin has a heavy hand in the KHL and its image. Should one of the Russian leader’s linemates become a free agent, money will not be an object to bring him home.
So, despite our panelists’ efforts, we’ll stick with a $7 million valuation over two years. There will be criticism, but when hasn’t Malkin received criticism? The sibling rivalry among Penguins fans assures the criticism will never end, but Malkin will have a lucrative KHL fallback to go home while he still has some gas in the tank.
In that case, we don’t think $4 million George Washingtons will outweigh 721,808,000 million rubles ($10 million USD), so the Penguins will have to pay.
Of course, we’ve never correctly guessed Malkin’s motivations or next action. So we could be wrong, too.