Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin was spreading some love Tuesday as a parade of players met with local reporters for the final time in wrapping up the 2021-22 season and looking forward.
But the decorated center and pending unrestricted free agent also made it clear he will move on after 16 seasons and three Stanley Cups if he can’t strike a deal to remain with the Penguins.
Malkin was asked about it earlier this season, when he was goofing around and proclaimed himself to be a pretty rich guy and perhaps open to taking some sort of hometown discount to remain with his original club.
His tune was a little different Tuesday.
“I believe I’m still a good player, and I believe good players sign good contracts,” Malkin said. “If I say once I’m a rich guy it does not mean I deserve a $1 million contract.”
No, perhaps something in a more high-rent neighborhood.
Malkin is at the end of a contract that carries a salary cap hit of $9.5 million. Even a moderate hometown discount could be tough for the Penguins under the cap for someone who turns 36 in July.
Malkin indicated he wants to play “three or four more years,” and he wants to do it in the NHL, discounting reports that he might be wooed by his hometown team in the KHL, Magnitogorsk.
He also made it clear his preference would be to stay with the Penguins and retire from that organization.
That’s where the lovefest kicked in.
Of his two fellow core players and teammates for all 16 of his seasons, center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang, Malkin gushes.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Like brothers, one Canadian and one French-Canadian. I love them both. It’s not just hockey; it’s life. We spend so much time together. We know each other pretty well. Sid’s an amazing guy. Favorite player. Favorite guy.”
Malkin also gave shoutout to Pittsburgh in general.
“I love this city. I love these fans so much,” he said.
And yet Malkin made it clear his future is undecided pending contract negotiations.
“I know if the team wants new blood, young guys on the team and they say to me you should move on, I understand,” he said. “It’s a little bit tough year for me. But we’ll see. I’m glad to be here. Sixteen years. Again, great city, great fans. But we’ll see what’s going on.”
The “tough year” reference was to Malkin’s offseason knee surgery nearly a year ago that kept him out until Jan. 11. He played in half the games, 41, with 20 goals, 42 points. He then had three goals, six points in the seven-game series against a first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.
“I know I’m older. I believe in myself. I know it’s a hard year for me. Big injury,” Malkin said. “But now I’ll have a little bit of rest and probably will be the hardest summer of my life. I want to come back next level next year and show my best, play all 82 games, again make the playoffs. I want to play in the final, the semifinals.
“I believe we still have a chance if I stay here. We have a great organization, great coach. We still have a chance to win.
“It’s something new for me because it’s the first time in this situation. Pittsburgh is my second home now. … I hope we find a way to all be happy.”
Malkin said he plans to leave a lot of the upcoming back-and-forth to his agent, JP Barry.
“We’ll see what is going on and I hope we sign good deal,” Malkin said.
And if it’s not with the Penguins?
“If I stay I’ll be so happy, but if not (I’ll) move my family to the other city and hope to play my best hockey,” Malkin said.