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Molinari: Malkin’s Successor Won’t Be What Malkin Once Was

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NHL trade, Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin

If the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t re-sign Evgeni Malkin, don’t judge his replacement as their No. 2 center by comparing resumes.

Save yourself the research. Malkin’s is better.

UPDATE: Hours after posting, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins reversed stated course and signed a four-year, $24.4 million deal.

The Hockey Hall of Fame probably already is fine-tuning the wording on the plaque he’ll get a few years down the road; none of the guys who have been widely mentioned as Malkin’s possible successor — Vincent Trocheck, Nazim Kadri, Ryan Strome, et al. — should be devoting a lot of time to working on their induction acceptance speech.

But what Malkin has achieved to this point in his extraordinary career really doesn’t matter, when it comes to what can be expected from him in 2022-23 and beyond.

That he’s capable of bursts of greatness defies contention; that he’ll be able to stay healthy and be a reliable contributor, game-in and game-out, is far less certain, regardless of where he is playing.

And, as was noted in this space a few weeks ago, contracts are not lifetime-achievement awards, especially in the salary-cap era. They are intended to compensate a player for what he is projected to do while the deal is in effect, not for anything he had accomplished in previous seasons.

It’s completely understandable that there are wildly conflicting opinions on how much Malkin, who will be 36 July 31, can be expected to do for a team over the next three or four years.

His proponents insist that he still is — and will continue to be — capable of executing remarkable feats with regularity, which means that Ron Hextall declining to meet Malkin’s contract requirements (which never have been reported with absolute certainty) not only is near-heresy, but sheer stupidity.

Skeptics, meanwhile, point to his advancing age, major physical issues in recent seasons and lackluster defensive work as evidence that Hextall is right to not stray beyond the parameters of the contract he was willing to give Malkin when the negotiations began.

The wisdom (or lack thereof) of allowing Malkin to leave — if he does — might not be apparent for a few seasons, but if he does depart, remember this: Whoever replaces him will be brought in to be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ No. 2 center, not to be Evgeni Malkin.

*** Day 1 of the free-agency signing period, which begins Wednesday at noon, generates a lot of attention and even more fiscal recklessness.

Big-name players start to drop off the board in early afternoon and dozens have new employers by nightfall, usually with a contract that makes their financial advisor very happy.

However, don’t lose sight of the reality that Day 1 is far from the last opportunity for clubs to plug lineup holes. There generally are good role players still on the market on Day 2 or 3, and asking prices tend to moderate a bit when a guy has gone a day or two without getting a contract.

What’s more, free agency can have a ripple effect, leading to players who weren’t available when the signing period began suddenly being deemed expendable because their club brought in a replacement, whether it’s someone who is better or simply cheaper.

Given the pressures exerted by the salary cap, teams usually can’t afford to hoard capable players, and the trades they have to make can make it possible for another club to fill a roster hole at a reasonable price.

*** As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a bit less than $9.5 million in cap space to flesh out their roster for the coming season.

That figure is somewhat misleading, however, because it is prudent to set aside some cap space to accommodate players who have to be recalled from Wilkes-Barre when someone has a short-term injury.

Failing to do so could lead to being forced to play with fewer than 20 guys, putting it at an obvious competitive disadvantage.

*** Misinformation is almost the currency of the realm in the NHL at this time of year.

Some player agents exaggerate the interest a free-agent client is generating around the league, in hopes of improving the contract he eventually receives. Some team officials express urgency to fill a particular need on their roster, simply to draw attention away from a position they are even more interested in upgrading.

Keep that in mind when assessing the possibility of Malkin accepting a contract from Washington.

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom is expected to miss most of the upcoming season while recovering from major hip surgery, creating a gaping void in Washington’s lineup.

Filling it with Malkin would address a personnel need, with the added benefit of tweaking the Pittsburgh Penguins, a bitter rival.

It’s almost too obvious.

Trouble is, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan has gone on the record saying that Washington expects Backstrom to return at some point during the regular season, so he is understandably reluctant to invest Backstrom’s $9.2 million cap hit in someone to fill a relatively short-term need.

It’s hard to argue with MacLellan’s rationale. Assuming he’s telling the truth, of course.

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Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 month ago

They would be foolish to sign any of these guys long term unless they can trade them in 2-3 years when this team falls off the cliff.

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
1 month ago

Dave I really believe Hextall is on a mission to get bigger & more physical by his draft & letting Malkin test free agency. I like the options to fill # 2 center, I believe Hextall has his plan in place and will also make a trade tomorrow as well, aka salary dump.
thoughts?
Thanks

Steve
Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Great piece. Agreed with every word. And just like that, it’s moot as he resigns.

Bill Norcik
Bill Norcik
1 month ago

Dave you have been killing it with your insight and breaking Penguins updates. As always I appreciate your efforts.

Kevin M
Kevin M
1 month ago

Nobody commenting here has seen the breaking news tonight?

Jay95
Jay95
1 month ago
Reply to  Kevin M

Yep. I’m fine with the 4th year of it’s at 6.1 million. Any other suitable replacement would have most likely cost more. I mean, the Preds are paying Duchene and Johansen 8mil each. And, neither touches even an aging Geno.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Jay95

Should’ve signed Giroux instead

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

This did not age well.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

the headline still works though

Dan Kingerski
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

It happens. Sides changed their minds.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

No need to apologize! Even the headline still rings true.

Scott Baron
Scott Baron
1 month ago

Just FYI- I don’t think that any athlete has returned to the highest level of their
sport after a hip resurfacing (Backstrom)

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