Evgeni Malkin is not the savior of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan instead refers to him as one of the Penguins two generational talents, including Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
The job of Penguins savior was immediately and then intermittently thrust upon Malkin throughout his career. When the Penguins piled up top-five picks, including Ryan Whitney (5th overall, 2002), Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall, 2003), and Malkin was the second overall pick behind Alex Ovechkin in 2004, Malkin was to be the man in the middle.
Brooks Orpik, Whitney, Fleury, and Malkin were to be the Penguins core until an improbable lottery win in 2005 delivered Crosby, too.
On Friday, the Penguins revealed that Malkin had what sounds like a serious knee surgery. He will be out of the Penguins lineup beyond September, and that’s all we know. The Penguins said more information would be available during the September training camp.
Here’s betting head coach Mike Sullivan terms him week-to-week (we kid, we kid).
For Malkin, it’s yet another injury suffered late in the season.
Some truths about Evgeni Malkin have been present from the beginning, some have evolved, and some, unfortunately, are staring us in the face.
Evgeni Malkin Can Carry the Penguins
I don’t know why Malkin assumes beast mode when Crosby is out of the lineup, but it’s true. It’s damn true. Without Crosby for 28 games in 2019-20, Malkin heaped the beleaguered Penguins on his back and scored 74 points in 55 games before injuries befell him, too.
During Crosby’s absence that season, in which the Penguins surged to first place in the Metro Division, Malkin had a hand in 40% of the Penguins’ goals.
It was the most recent example of Malkin carrying the Penguins in time of need.
Malkin was on another beast-mode heater in March until Boston Bruins defenseman Jared Tinordi crunched him with a clean hit near the corner. The hit included a knee-on-knee collision, and Malkin was again felled. But the big Russian had 12 points (4-8-12) in the eight games prior.
He and Kasperi Kapanen looked like world-beaters.
There’s no hiding that Malkin has been somewhat injury-prone. He generally plays between 60 and 69 games per 82-game season. Nine times in his 15-year career, he has missed more than 12 games, including missing 23 games in this shortened season.
To his credit, Malkin has also played through significant injuries which required more than a little cleanup on the operating table. His wrist was badly injured in 2017. Or was the wrist in 2016 and a leg in 2017? Or was it both? It’s hard to keep track.
He played with one wing for the duration of the Stanley Cup run. Malkin couldn’t shoot the puck in the playoffs but gallantly played on.
In the 2021 playoffs, Malkin apparently had a torn-up knee. ACL, MCL, meniscus? Doesn’t matter. When a player is out for more than four months, the surgery was significant. And yet Malkin was one of the better Penguins in Games 5 and 6.
Doesn’t that warrant some praise instead of criticism?
Do you know what other Penguins star was injury-prone like Malkin? Mario Lemieux. Yeah.
Bigger, stronger superstars have a shelf life. The beating they take, the game-by-game pounding they take because they can, eventually catches up to everyone.
Malkin has played through it all. A wrist injury. Knee injuries. Everything except a wicked sunburn (looking at you, Florida sun).
Malkin has delivered for Penguins fans like few others. He deserves to be in that pantheon of Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby…and Malkin.
Yet, there seems to be a boisterous minority that seeks to take away his effectiveness. That minority seeks to deny what Malkin meant and means to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups. Malkin has a Hart Trophy, a Calder, three rings, a Conn Smyth, two Art Ross honors, a Ted Lindsay, and leads the league in times overlooked.
Malkin doesn’t have to be a top-five all-time player like Crosby to receive the recognition that he is one of the best of the era and has been crucial to the Penguins’ success.
As Malkin approaches 35-years-old next month, it’s time for everyone to pay the piper. You don’t just dump players that have been a pillar of the organization for 15 years. You don’t whine and complain like children that a 35-year-old isn’t 25 anymore.
And you certainly don’t trade Evgeni Malkin and simply get a younger one in return.
Time to Pay the Piper
This was always the bargain. Evgeni Malkin played for less than market value, and in return, he received a full no-movement clause to stay with the Penguins as long he wants. While players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, and Connor McDavid soaked their teams for max dollars, Crosby and Malkin took well less than their market value.
Beyond their play on the ice, their team-first paychecks permitted GMs Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford to go crazy on the NHL trade market. And sometimes, they did. The lower-than-market valuation contracts also allowed the Penguins to sign free agents and put a competitive team around them, even as the organization wasted years from 2011-2015 in some sort of hockey adolescence.
Malkin must pay for the audacity of aging. Fans must pay for the enjoyment they received. The Penguins must pay for the benefits they received, too.
It’s nearly a miracle that the Penguins window isn’t nailed shut by now. They had a real chance this season. They should have beaten the New York Islanders handily. The Pittsburgh Penguins significantly outplayed New York, but it was the mid-20s players who came up the short, in net and on the wings.
Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins could strip the team bare and start a rebuild, but–too many people assume this fantastic process would just start all over again; have growing pains for a year, or two, make the playoffs and start winning more Stanley Cups in a few years.
Sorry kids, it doesn’t work like that. Not even in Pittsburgh.
Ask Detroit how it’s going. Maybe ask Buffalo, LA, Chicago, Anaheim, Arizona, New Jersey…?
When the Penguins say goodbye, it’s going to begin a hard process that probably won’t end in a Stanely Cup anytime soon. Great teams like the Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, even the Toronto Maple Leafs have waited for generations.
The entire hockey universe in Canada hasn’t seen a Cup in 28 years.
Toronto hasn’t succeeded since Herman’s Hermits, and The Monkees were Top-40 radio. 1967. Toronto’s last Cup predates Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock, Led Zeppelin, landing on the moon, and the first Rolling Stones farewell tour.
Of course, the Penguins are delaying the inevitable. Of course they are! By keeping Malkin around, Kris Letang, and even Sidney Crosby, they’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.
They almost had it this year with Jeff Carter.
The time to reload was two years ago when rich offers rolled in for the Penguins core players. But that’s gone, and there’s no sense whining about it now.
Realize, once this is over, the Penguins have to walk through the desert again. It won’t be fun. It won’t be easy. There will be 12,000 fans in the arena, 30,000 fans claiming to have been there and lots more fans who say, “let me know when they make the playoffs.”
Everyone pays the piper. At least these Penguins can still dance, even with one wrist, one leg, or one knee.