Evgeni Malkin's Future Isn't Up to Penguins, It's Up to Malkin
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Evgeni Malkin’s Future Isn’t Up to Penguins, It’s Up to Malkin

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The decision regarding Evgeni Malkin’s Pittsburgh Penguins future does not belong to the organization or General Manager Jim Rutherford. The decision regarding the path and trajectory of Malkin’s future in Pittsburgh is solely up to Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin will control his future, not just because of his ironclad no-trade-clause but because he must choose to fit with the Pittsburgh Penguins or continue about the insolent course he charted this season with Phil Kessel and without deference to head coach Mike Sullivan. The two paths are mutually exclusive, for his sake and the team’s sake.

Malkin has played 852 games in the NHL, all with the Penguins. He has 1002 points including 391 goals. It has already been a storied career including three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe trophy, a Calder Trophy, a Hart, a Ted Lindsey award and a couple of Art Ross trophies. But those do not exempt Malkin from future responsibilities.

Malkin’s parting words from the 2018-19 season came immediately after the Penguins were bounced in four games by the New York Islanders. Headline material followed, such as “We have to understand … we’re not champions anymore,” and “No one respects us.”

Rutherford boldly declared the Penguins never became a team this season.

Both Rutherford and Malkin were absolutely correct. However, Malkin’s culpability for those negative situations is high. Sidney Crosby owned his level play or did what was necessary to succeed all season. Third line center Nick Bjugstad became a dominant center in the trenches for the Penguins; he too did what was required to the best of his ability. Yet Malkin and linemates seemed to struggle with that concept for most of the season.

Is it any wonder Malkin and frequent compadre Kessel were frustrated or going through Sahara-like dry spells? The game tightened up but the pair thought they could skate around and through it with big spaces between them because that used to work.

They couldn’t.

Malkin reportedly thought he could fire back at the coach who called out his stubborn or selfish play.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

He can’t.

One scene which PHN detailed via Twitter during Game 4 seems even more relevant now. As the Penguins were again sputtering after gaining a lead and the Penguins second line was again was derelict in their defensive duties, Sullivan was yelling towards the end of the Penguins bench in Malkin’s direction, as Malkin sat with his head down, without reaction.

Any parent of a frustrating teenager (or older) who is old enough to be in control of their own life but not old enough to be out of the house knows that conversation. Do this and you will be successful! You must do this! Why aren’t you doing this?!

Perhaps many of you are closer to the receiving end than the giving end. You’ll get there someday and know that frustration.

The Penguins record without Malkin in crucial games in March is less important than how well they played. The Penguins were 5-1-3 4-2-2 and if not for a few late game mistakes against teams with an empty net and an extra attacker, they would have earned a couple of more wins in the most crucial stretch of the season.

The style of play changed for the worse as did the team attitude when the Penguins got a full roster again.

That just can’t happen.

The Penguins were a better team when they were missing key players including Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. The Penguins were a better team when they were worried about missing the playoffs. And the Penguins were a better team in those moments when they chose to be.

Malkin can be a Penguin for life but not on bad terms. He must adopt the Penguins philosophy, whatever it is in any given moment. He cannot win or be happy if he tries to force the Penguins to live with him doing things his way. That’s not how hockey or professional sports work anymore, especially when one player’s way is no longer successful.

So, Malkin has a great choice: Make the Penguins better by accepting the team concept and bringing his immense skills to it, or make the Penguins better by removing himself. There just isn’t a viable third option anymore but contractually and spiritually, it’s Malkin’s call.

Edit: The original story listed the Penguins record in March and April without Malkin as 5-1-3, but the record was 4-2-2.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Jenn Jones

    April 26, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Right on!!!

  2. Rick

    April 26, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    Dan, I’ve been critical of your writing in the past, but since the end of the season to now you have been spot on with every single article that you’ve written. Keep up the good work my man and I MAY become a subscriber.

  3. Uncle Cal

    April 26, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Dan you have it right most of the time. No one is bigger than the team. Love your articles and if I wasn’t so twitter inept I would have signed on PHN extra.

    • Dan Kingerski

      April 26, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      I appreciate that! Once we get through April, we should have more PHN Extra content.
      Thanks for the compliment, too.

  4. Frank

    April 26, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    He is considered a core player. He is viewed as an NHL superstar. He has won two Cups and other awards. He is paid handsomely. In my world he should be behaving like a leader, speaking like a veteran and understanding almost no one cares about his stats or theory on how to play when it comes choosing between those and winning another Cup. Assuming whispers and media reports are accurate . .. he is taking the off season to decide that very thing. Ugh! There are dozens of hurdles in moving a guy who is thinking like that and they may prohibit that happening but were I GMJR I would be relentless in finding a way to do it. All he has to do is look across the river at Heinz Field to see the consequences of pandering to this kind of nonsense.

  5. Dean

    April 26, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Dan, some thoughts in defense of Malkin – would love to see you do a series on this. Malkin has earned it.

    Malkin is a superstar, with an ego like everyone else, who amazingly knows how to fit into a team with a better superstar at the same position. I have watched for years where Malkin takes the scraps left over from feeding Sid, whom I love and think is as good as person as he is a superstar. So don’t think I am bashing Sid.

    If Sid’s line is not clicking then let’s take someone from Malkin’s line that is clicking. Sign a new top 6 player. Sid get’s both first choose and can basically reject playing with another player that doesn’t fit his play and Malkin often gets stuck with the leftovers whether they fit or not.

    If we are making big changes then let’s build a line around Malkin that compliments his play. That is the smarter move.

    Sid has Jake. Who is Malkin’s Jake? And I am just not talking about someone who get’s paid $5M plus. I am talking about someone whose game fits Malkin’s like a glove. That just does not get moved no matter what is happening with Sid and Jake.

    Both Sid and Jake are consistent 2 way hockey players. Malkin is not. He needs 2 – 2 way hockey players that can pass, score, and work the boards & the net.

    So let’s move Kessel and Hornqvist (plus Maatta and Johnson) so we can get younger and give Malkin what he has earned.

    A Broke Nelson or a Kevin Hayes on the left and a Kapanen on the right with Malkin which would make a great 2nd line for the rest of Malkin’s term.

    • Dan Kingerski

      April 26, 2019 at 10:20 pm

      I’ve cited Malkin’s work with Hagelin and Hornqvist last season. It was great–they played honest hockey. Those were pretty good linemates and this season he got his wish with Kessel. My impression of Malkin and his season is that he spent six months attempting to pound a square peg in a round hole. The more resistance he received, on and the ice and off, the harder he pounded that square peg. I can’t tell you I’m 100% correct, but it’s my impression. I do believe without the Kessel fallback, and if Malkin is reunited with Hornqvist and a puck retriever like Rust or McCann on the LW, Malkin should return to his dominant self–but he’s got stop pounding the square peg.

  6. Edgar

    April 26, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    I think the Malkin saga is an interesting one. In the very beginning of the season, him and Kessel were lighting ip up if I remember correctly. With Hags as the other winger. Now, as wonderful a complementary player as Hags is, and he might be the best in the league at this, he has no business on the second line with Geno and Phil. But, obviously Sully put him there for defensive purposes. Then, the team scoring dried up and Rutherford panicked and traded Hags. And, it seems Geno and Phil just went into the tank 5v5 and ever recovered,
    It was pretty much a lost season for Pitt. so I think you have to give the guys a pass quite frankly. Malkin has always been an emotional guy and we’ve all wanted him to reel it in for years now. But, when they were winning championships it was all good. I just don’t want the team to over react. As much as I put the blame squarely on him for his behavior.

  7. Ricardo58

    April 26, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    After reading your article, if possible, my appreciation and respect for the professional effort and behavior of 87 has increased even more.
    Other than Hossa for a season, what superstar winger has played with 87 comparable to 81 playing with 71? 59 has developed quite well! Would 59 score that many goals playing with any other center? Maybe, maybe not. I know he fits well with 87.
    As a fan of 71 who has admired his skill and production, I’d like to think 66 and the Pens will do the right thing if 71 chooses not to buy in.
    Go Pens!

  8. Taco

    April 26, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Maybe Sid can stop his Selke fantasy and start playing like a scoring #1 center again.

    • Dan Kingerski

      April 26, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      He did have 30+ goals and 100 points this season. If that is abandoning offense, I’d love to see him unfettered.

  9. BIG B

    April 27, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Dan i am sick of this BS that people put out that Crosby gets the top stuff and Malkin takes the crap.First Crosby gets all the tough matchups and has to take all the tough face-offs because Malkin is too lazy to work on his draws.Second Malkin has had all the big scoring wingers over the years such as James Neal and now Kessel and people conplain Sid has Jake.The simple answer to that is this is the first year Sid has had Jake full time and he helped elevate Jake to a 40 goal scorer.Sid is an all time top 5 great player in the historyof the game, he is a scoring champ who is now one of the games best two way players.Malkin is a great player who scores but lately has no comittment to D.Crosby has six 100 point season which woul be 10 or 11 without injuries and at least 6 scoring titles without concusions the measles and a Orpik puck to the chops.

    The anti Sid crap is ridiculous because Malkin did not buy in this season as Sid had 100 points and finished 5th in scoring.Sid is also the only active player to have six 100 point season.My guess is that he is being blamed for crap because he scored the GOLDEN GOAL for Canada against the USA at the olympics.I seem to recall he was booed when he came back from the games when the Pens P.A anouncer gave him props for winning the gold where as Malkin has failed to lead his country to any glory.

  10. Pingback: Thursday Brain Drain – All Over the Sports Map – FoB&D Sports

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