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Kingerski: Malkin Context, Details and My Opinion

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The Pittsburgh Hockey Now story yesterday which led with the Florida Panthers interest in Evgeni Malkin was as carefully worded as this writer is capable. Not only did we have to omit critical phrases and direct quotes to protect at least one source, but we also had to describe the multi-faceted situation which simultaneously involves external discussions and the Pittsburgh Penguins internal debates. Right now it seems there are as many moving parts as the Game of Thrones opening sequence.

The Penguins have to make a decision. Malkin has to make a decision. The Penguins decision has to fit Malkin’s decisions and Malkin’s decision–despite a no-movement clause–are somewhat dependent on the Penguins decisions. Oh, and then the Penguins may have to deal with other teams and their choices, too.

Moving parts.

For context, let’s examine the Penguins 2018 summer.

In full disclosure, we believe there was a split decision last summer on Phil Kessel’s future, and there was some intense debate on multiple levels of the organization leading up to the draft. GM Jim Rutherford tamped down expectations, and it did not appear as if he was ever close to a Kessel trade. You can guess on which side he fell.

This offseason, there are different schools of thought on Malkin, but there also seems to be a resignation and even a sullen agreement among Penguins decision makers, which was missing last season. This time, we’re told Rutherford is not on the player’s side.

That still does not guarantee a Malkin trade, but it does set the table. By all accounts, public and private, Rutherford is not a happy camper with his team and especially his core group. He tried to send a message by dealing the popular Carl Hagelin in November. Instead, a couple of players resisted.

He sent more messages publicly, and yet they didn’t seem to register in some locker stalls.

My opinion is firm. The Malkin tenure can be saved and every effort should be made, but he must want it and meet the Penguins at least halfway, if not more. He can’t offer a lukewarm agreement, but instead, he must have a sincere desire to adopt the Penguins direction. He’s 33-years-old. Taking over a game with individual effort and being an army of one doesn’t work anymore. The game is too fast and too structured to try cute plays at the blue line.

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Those extra efforts at the blue line yield more goals against than for. The extra effort Malkin needs to show is again coming back into his own zone like it matters because it does. On every shift.

If he does not commit to that, unfortunately, the team is better off without a pillar of this generation.

As those of you who watch our live YouTube chats also know, I also firmly believe the removal of Phil Kessel will help Malkin. Malkin played a linear game with Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist in 2017-18. They were statistically dominant on every level including goals. Malkin can be again surrounded by players who buy-in to the system instead of a player who feeds his worst instincts.

Kessel didn’t work with Malkin, Brassard, or Bjugstad. He had a spurt with Crosby but that too quickly faded. Rather than an ax, Rutherford should first use a scalpel.

For further context, let’s examine 2015.

Remember the closed-door meeting in New Jersey on Nov. 17, 2015? I sure do. I saved the game sheet because I thought it was the end of the Penguins core. Instead, it turned into a championship rebirth weeks later when Mike Sullivan was hired. Details of that all-out November family spat have long been forgotten in the shadow of two Stanley Cups, but it was significant.

At that moment, Sidney Crosby was disillusioned with head coach Mike Johnston’s system, but he rigidly played it. His frustration level was boiling. Malkin was not as frustrated because he ignored the directions and played to his own system.

Malkin had no problem choosing his way over the coach’s way then, and he did so in 2018-19, too. He was probably correct then. Certainly wrong now. Coaches can live with players who break scheme when they’re great. When the results become not so great, there are problems.

So, Malkin’s reported insubordination complicates this matter, too. Sometimes feelings can linger. Sullivan smoothed everything last summer with Kessel, and the Malkin-Kessel line had a rocket start. But they both almost reflexively choose their loose style of play over honest hockey.

Malkin has to show he can follow the directives of the team. Sorry, some allowances can be made for a player with Malkin’s skill level and skill set, but no exceptions can be made.

A Malkin trade should not occur to shake things up. It must only occur as a last resort. Malkin has earned that right to suffer through ups and downs…if he is willing to accept his role with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But he must commit to that. No exceptions.

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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.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Dean

    May 8, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Dan, why is no-one defending Malkin? He has graciously spent 13 years playing a secondary role to Crosby. Until this year, he never made a demand other than on himself to play better.

    When will someone in the media at-least present a full picture of the situation in Malkin’s defense?

    If I was Malkin or his agent, I would demand that the Pens management and coaches find him top six talent that compliments his play and that those players aren’t moved. Especially not moved to Crosby’s line as soon as the first line has any type of sputter.

    Give him top 6 talent that are two-way players that are fast, can pass & score, and work the tough areas of the ice. I would start by putting McCann on his left side and then use the first pick to trade for Kapanen on the right side. The combine cost would be $5.5M for the 2 of them next year.

    How bad is it with the Pens? They will move Guentzel to his off-side to bring McCann up to the first line. That is not good for Guentzel or Malkin.

    • Rick

      May 9, 2019 at 10:22 am

      Dean, the media isn’t defending Malkin “GRACIOUSLY” playing 2nd fiddle to Crocby because that is EXACTLY what Malkin wanted! Nothing to defend. I swear do you people not read or listen to what these players say.

      • JICS

        May 10, 2019 at 1:34 am

        Rick – I had exactly the same question – and they must not read or listen to much, or even watch very closely.

        • Dean

          May 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

          Wow on many fronts!

          All the players that Malkin got were rejected by Sid. If Sid wanted Kessel or Neal he would have gotten them. JICS and Rick, maybe you can read or listen, however you don’t seem to be able to remember reality or look at another side of a situation and perform any analysis. There is a reason for the old adage “there are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle”. Dan that is the part of the story that I don’t see you looking at. Just try to think this through. Crosby did not like to play with Kessel (fact), However Sid and Jake are excellent or even exceptional two-way players. Having a top 10 right winger, all 3 in their natural positions, may have been the better choice. Sid and Jake had a chance of holding Kessel accountable. The problem is that Sid did not want to play with Kessel. So what do we do? We put 2 top 10 players on the same line when they are both weak two-way players and hope somehow that 1 two-way player, who is not in the top 100, can offset the primary weakness in Malkin’s and Kessel’s game. Insane!!!!!
          JICS, if you just want to have one line on the team, good luck with that approach in winning a championship. It takes 4 lines. There is a reason that we didn’t breakup the HBK line regardless on what was happening on Crosby’s or Malkin’s line.
          Rick, yes Malkin was willing to play “second fiddle”. So what? When you are fortunate enough to have 2 superstars you work to do what is best for both, not just one of them.

    • Dan Kingerski

      May 9, 2019 at 2:49 pm

      I’m not sure what part of the complete picture we’re missing. He played with top-6 talent Phil Kessel this season. He played with Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin last year. My job isn’t to “defend” a player, only to give you insights into the situation, analysis and the truth as best we can see it. If those facts defend a player, great. And if the facts prosecute a player, fine.

      • Dean

        May 10, 2019 at 1:05 pm

        Dan, why I read your stories is more because you are very good at the art of writing and you are creative (you see and cover far more stories than any other group). Traits of someone who is right brain dominate. However, let’s start talking numbers or comparisons. You get about 1/3 of your numbers wrong in your articles or on your broadcasts and when you try to make comparisons you seem to get turned around. Traits of someone who isn’t left brain dominate. Being analytical is a left brain attribute.

        Let’s look at your most recent article on Simon.

        Here is a quote from that article.

        “For fun, here’s a direct comparison without names: Player A posted a 54% Corsi rating, 53% goals-for, and a 54% scoring chance rate. Player B had a 55% Corsi, 56% goals-for and a 60% scoring chance rate.

        Based on those metrics, Simon is the worst thing since…Carl Hagelin. Simon is player B. Hagelin in 2017-18 is player B.”

        I have read this several times and just can’t figure out what you are saying. Does Simon and Hagelin have the exact same stats so they really are both player B and no one is Player A (then why put player A in at all) or is one of them really player A, if so which one?

        By the way, under normal circumstances I would never pointed this out because I value you for what you are good at.

        The purpose of my Malkin comment was to prod you in order to encourage you to do a little more analysis and broaden your story. Trust me there is another side and it would be great to hear it.

        I appreciate what you are doing. Hoping to encourage you to be even better than you already are.

        From someone who is left brain dominate, I guess I am hoping for too much.

        • Dan Kingerski

          May 12, 2019 at 7:37 am

          It was a typo. Simon was B. Hagelin A.

    • JICS

      May 10, 2019 at 1:51 am

      Dean, I’m not Dan obviously, but it sounds to me like you have it completely backward. Check any other team, and the top line center gets the best wingers – not so with Sid. He was supposed to have James Neal, but when he came back from injury, he had lost him to Malkin. Then he was supposed to have Kessel, and because he was in a bit of a slump, and Kessel was learning a new system, they moved him to Malkin’s line AND kept him there, even though most of the time they played terrible together – and for some strange reason he was not allowed back on Sid’s line for another try! The only good winger Sid’s had since Kunitz is Guentzel (and they even tried to give him to Kessel on the third line at one point). Contrary to what you say, they try to help every other line by robbing the first line (and McCann was only there for a few games until he was injured, and he wasn’t put back on the 1st line when he returned). Sometimes it makes me feel like tearing my hair out!!!

  2. Edgar

    May 8, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Dan: maybe you can help me with this. The player’s hated Mike Johnston’s system which was all about defense and helping out, right? And then, they won 2 cups playing a system where the entire roster had to buy in to helping the defense out. Blocking shots and hustling back on defense. Please help me understand what the disconnect was. Besides the fact that the roster MJ had was nowhere near the roster Sully had by the end of the season talent-wise. Thanks.
    An interesting question about Malkin. Just an example here. Let’s say the Rangers were interested in trading Kreider+picks(not the #2), and a young defenseman for Geno. Kreider’s salary is about $5M less than Geno’s. Are the Pens better with a player like Kreider +$5M for another player at this point, then just Geno?

    • Dan Kingerski

      May 9, 2019 at 2:52 pm

      The Mike Johnston thing is a bit deep. His system was a 1-3-1 designed to put the puck on Crosby’s stick but it did so without speed. There were enormous differences from MJ to Sullivan, perhaps we can leave it there.
      I can’t answer the Rangers question, or my name will be all over the internet as “reporting” it.

      • Edgar

        May 9, 2019 at 11:57 pm

        Ha! I get that. And I’m not saying I think we should trade Geno. But, you have to ask the question, “How does this team get better”? And the answers of “get a team to take the bad contracts”, probably isn’t feasible to any degree. So, hopefully we can have this discussion at some point! Thanks.

  3. William R. Maloni Sr

    May 9, 2019 at 12:31 am

    My question applies to Geno and Phil.

    How do you know–even if they cliam they do–that one or both “buys in?”

    Both have said so in the past and not followed through.

    Waiting for them to “priove it,” means waiting until next season starts before moving anyone and/or will that be too late, if one or both go rogue and play pond hockey??

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