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Malkin Must be Better for Penguins Future; Sullivan Critique Highlights Uncertainty

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin had two goals and was on the ice for two even-strength Penguins goals. Jason Zucker had an assist on the Penguins second line in the team’s 7-2 rip on the Detroit Red Wings Saturday.

The stats look good.

Their game did not, at least for most of the 60 minutes.

Malkin and the Penguins’ second line did not find their stride or make themselves noticeable until later in the third period after the Red Wings hoisted the white flag in what was already a 5-2 game.

The advanced stats on Natural Stat Trick also showed the Malkin line had five high-danger scoring chances, compared to giving up just one. However, a few of those chances came in the third period. Malkin finished with six shots on goal, but had two in the first 40 minutes.

If the Penguins faced a better opponent or tighter game, Malkin’s detached first 40 minutes would have been a negative rather than an ancillary note. Though head coach Mike Sullivan offered praise of Evgeni Malkin on Saturday.

“I thought he was good. You know, he’s obviously scored a couple of goals and makes our power play so much harder to play against,” Sullivan said. “I thought his line had a lot of offensive zone time. I thought he was solid.”

However, Sullivan dished a subtle critique of Malkin’s play on Friday when asked about his line configurations and keeping Bryan Rust with Malkin, and Rickard Rakell with Sidney Crosby.

“I think (Malkin’s) play five-on-five has been sporadic. There have been times when he’s been really good, but I think his best games are where he’s been playing with Rusty,” Sullivan said after practice Friday. “ I think Rusty brings a certain dimension to that line that helps Geno and whoever we have on the other flank with him be effective.”

Malkin’s inactivity possibly played a role in his game. He missed the previous four games, which spanned nearly two weeks after a four-game suspension for an “aggressive cross-check” against Nashville.

However, Sullivan’s point-blank negative assessment is both an admission and a challenge for Malkin to improve.

The Penguins had just seven shots in the first period. The second period was going sideways, and the hapless Detroit Red Wings suddenly looked like they could pull off the spoiler upset.

Midway through the second, the Crosby line turned the tide. Sullivan leaned on his top line to change the direction of the game, and as Crosby and his linemates have done so often this season, they did.

It can’t always be Crosby that settles the game or provides the offense.

Malkin can be one of those players, too. When the playoffs begin, they won’t be facing a 10-ply opponent that quits in the third period. Crosby won’t always be able to flip the script.

The Penguins need Malkin.

And that’s why the Penguins’ Russian star could be playing for his Pittsburgh future. He doesn’t yet have a contract for next season, and there has been little chatter regarding progress on a new deal to keep “Geno” in Pittsburgh beyond his 16th season.

You don’t need to be reminded the Pittsburgh Penguins have just one playoff series win in the last four years and none in the last three. Since returning from major knee surgery in February, Malkin’s age, potential cost, and uneven play only add uncertainty to his future.

“I’m like a pretty rich guy,” Malkin joked with PHN in February when we asked about a new contract.

It would seem the issues are linked. The Penguins need more…now. They need a responsible Malkin who makes a commensurate impact for playing nearly 20 minutes per game on what should be a scoring line. They need Malkin to be his best in the coming playoffs.

The Penguins need the best of Malkin. He’s been good, sometimes. And not good enough, sometimes.

Whatever lies ahead in the next three weeks or beyond, Evgeni Malkin will play a primary role in determining the results. Whether it is inconsistent play, silly penalties (see also cross-checking Mark Borowiecki), or fading into the background, the Penguins cannot win anything significant without the better Malkin.

If he doesn’t deliver now, there may not be another chance.

But if he shows his value–and getting his game right in the next few games would help tremendously–then he is far more apt to get his wish and stick around to see his career through in Pittsburgh.

He’ll need to be more of the third period version of Evgeni Malkin and much less of the first 40 minutes version. A lot is riding on the next few weeks for both player and team.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Jeff Young
Jeff Young
7 months ago

“if he shows his value”… and that’s what infuriates some of us many times. His AAV is higher than Sid’s (?!) and yet we never have to think that about Crosby. Maybe that’s why many didn’t consider Geno Top 100 material?

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

The AAV comparison is flawed: Crosby signed 12 years x $8.7M – first 8 years salary averaging $10.8M; final 4 years averaging $4.5M. Malkin wasn’t allowed to resign until the following year and for no more than 8 years; he ended up with 8 x $9.5M – which is less than Crosby’s 8 x $10.8M. The only way Malkin actually makes more money than Crosby is if his next contract is more than $28.4M. So while some are complaining that Malkin’s AAV is higher than Crosby’s, they ignore that the CBA changed, disallowing Crosby-like contracts, and that it’s Crosby, not… Read more »

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

Thanks for the good info on the AAV. It’s that AAV that is used to compute cap, regardless of what the player is actually paid? So while Sid makes more in salary, Geno takes up more space. So which should we look at when it comes to what we should expect from a player? AAV, salary or something else? Season in, season out we don’t say what we do about Geno about Sid… so why is that? (And “we” aren’t just the fans folks complain about in the comments or in the articles themselves… Note that I quoted this very… Read more »

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Expecting players to play above the AAV every year on long-term contract is silly (not saying some don’t but the opposite is also true). The realistic expectation is a player will play above the AAV some years and below the AAV other years, but hopefully averages above. Long-term contracts are made to spread the cost, to include the great years with the lesser years. To look at Malkin’s contract as a whole, 1.11 P/GP with over 203 goals, his contract doesn’t look bad. For comparison, Toews is 0.77 P/GP with 133 goals, but has one more season in his contract… Read more »

Jack Torrance
Jack Torrance
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

Where do you get that SIDS last 4 years are at 4.5? He signed a contract that pays him from 2013-14 through 2024-25 for 8,700.000 PERIOD…THATS NOT MORE THAN MALKIN..YOU HAVE ZERO CLUE ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE BABBLING ABOUT…DO YOUR HOMEWORK…YOU rookie!

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  Jack Torrance

Dear rookie Jack: If you actually bother to look into the details of Crosby’s 12 year contract, you will find out that “first 8 years salary averaging $10.8M; final 4 years averaging $4.5M.” While his AAV is $8.7M, Crosby’s salary has never been $8.7M for any year of his career.

Steve
Steve
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Malkin is easily a top 50 player all time.

moe
moe
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Underappreciated, relegated to lower quality players as wingers by the coach has been the norm thruout Malkin’s 16 years as a Penguin. Crosby always gets the best cast to play with.
Give me a break with all the AAV jargon.

Robert Mild
7 months ago

Hasn’t that been the take with Geno, sometimes he amazes but too often he disappears or worse yet, commits a boneheaded pass that the opposing team turns into a prime scoring opportunity? Given that he’s the highest paid Penguin might explain why the fan base has a reason to expect a more consistent, more positive impact on the game.

ehasenel
ehasenel
7 months ago

If we do lose Rust in free-agency, which I hope we don’t- it would be awfully tempting to sign Rakell and and let Malkin go. Build a new second line from scratch. Maybe a 3a 3b type situation until we can find or develop a true no 2 centre. That is the biggest gap right now in this team. Malkin is an absolute defensive liability on the ice that he is not scoring his way out of.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
7 months ago
Reply to  ehasenel

Ideally we sign Rust and Rakell and if Geno wants to stay (or the organization wants to resign him) see what $ are left after signing those two.

Ethan
Ethan
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Rusty has his first and possibly only chance to fetch top dollar this summer so chance of going elsewhere high. Rakell is buds with Petterssen but Pens might be looking to ship MP this summer so hope he is making lots of new friends. Letang wants term but doubt he’s going to get it from Pens. So if Geno is willing to take a team friendly deal for a few more years–you sign the future Hall of Famer–end of discussion!

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
7 months ago

It’s not a Penguins game if there aren’t complaints about Geno. Meanwhile Letang skates by with his typically gaffe-prone game.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

I’m expecting Letang to leave. And of it happens, we can sign Rust and Rakell. Matheson ends up having to take Letang’s place.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
7 months ago

It’s all about the playoffs in the end. If he’s a no show who implodes trying to do too much like 2019 or 2020, then it’s bye bye. If he plays within himself and shows up like last year against the Islanders, then of course you try to keep him . . . although there will be no shortage of suitors in the scenario where he’s been saving a little for the playoffs. Of course, even if he shows like last year, it won’t move the needle unless the goaltending is there and Sid and Jake choose to show up… Read more »

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
7 months ago

Been saying for weeks the issue with Malkin’s 5 on 5 play can be traced to the fact that he’s starting and stopping like the second coming of Hal Gill. Not sure if it’s temporary and related to returning from major knee surgery or if it’s permanent and he’s cheating trying to compensate, but he’s looping out there and trying not to stop. Even when he was playing “well” in the defensive zone earlier, I think it was more a case of anticipating correctly. But, when he guesses wrong, it’s a mess. As noted, ideally he’ll revert to last year’s… Read more »

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

Geno aside the team is going to need everyone firing on all cylinders if they want a chance at success. Of course the “stars” have to be at the forefront on that. Unfortunately he invites criticism with his funks and mistakes he should not be committing at this point. Letang is guilty of the same but he plays half the game in a top pairing against the opposition top line. He kills penalties and plays the power play. Malkin does not have near that much responsibility. Too early to think about who may or may not sign here. But I… Read more »

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
7 months ago

You are getting a hitnor miss scenario with 71-the bigger issue. Will 87 make a difference, last 14 games had not been good. Its not just 1 superstar that has to step up.

Cal
Cal
7 months ago

Well…….if the Pens don’t sign ANY of their own free agents they will have approx 20 million to spend on the likes of Klingberg, Trocheck, Domi, Fleury, Neideretter, Nikushkin, Zadorov, Forsberg,Copp, Sanford, Paul, Kane, Smith Deslauriers, Manson, Subban, Cole to name some and there are others. Easier said than done but those are some of the free agents out there.

William Maloni
William Maloni
7 months ago
Reply to  Cal

Your interesting response reminds me of the old SNL routine when George Bush, the younger, offers a bunch of African surnames to impress his questioners.

Paul
Paul
7 months ago

Malkin should have been dumped three years ago. Now he’s even older and slower and has less to offer outside of the power play. The team can be one-and-done in the playoffs without him as easily as with him. And do it for a lot less money, too.

Last edited 7 months ago by Paul
Ethan
Ethan
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul

And he has the best one time slapper on the team by a mile but who cares about that right?

Paul
Paul
7 months ago
Reply to  Ethan

You forgot that Malkin also stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once. #TooFunny

Uros
Uros
7 months ago

I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I was watching the Celtics vs Nets game and they were saying that fans were really convinced that one of Tatum or Brown should be traded. To this Mark Price said: If you listen to the fans you’ll join them in the stands. I know who Malkin is and what sort of player he is, so just sit back and enjoy as you did all these years. In the meantime look at the numbers and srart worrying about the D and the G not the M.

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[…] a slow start in his first game back from a four-game suspension, Pittsburgh Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin found the twine twice in the third […]

Troy Garrah
Troy Garrah
7 months ago

Resign: Malkin,-2 yrs-$15.5 mil Letang,- 3 yrs-$22.5 mil Rakell- 6 yrs-$38 mil Rust- 4 yrs-$25 mi Rodrigues- 3 yrs-$6.6 mil Boyle- 2 yrs-$2.4 mil Heinenen-3 yrs-$6.6 mil Kapanen- trade for draft pick (4th round) Pettersson-trade for nothing (salary dump) Next year- Guentzel. Crosby. Rakell Rust. Malkin. Zucker McGinn. Carter. Heinenen O’Connor. Blueger. Rodrigues Extra-Boyle, Zohorna, Poulin, Hallander D is set with six back (If Letang leaves, Matheson/Marino will take top PP spot…Resign POJ and Riikola for 2 years- $2.3 (organizational depth) Resign DeSmith or a veteran goalie under $2.5/yr If Malkin or Letang won’t sign for that amount…. Trade For… Read more »

RYAN
RYAN
7 months ago

I see who the wagons are circling around as the media scapegoat…

Shocking it’s the Russian 🙄. Typical yinzer stuff.

You may get your wish soon.