For the first time in Evgeni Malkin’s career, the trade rumors are real.
In the early days of the budding Penguins core centered on Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, there was some talk the Penguins would choose to keep Jordan Staal as the second center. That was not the case. As the legend suggests, the Penguins turned down a king’s ransom for Malkin from several teams including the LA Kings who also wanted a return to the star power 1990s.
However, the talk is now legitimate. Pittsburgh Hockey Now spoke with sources close to the Penguins front office and around the league. Sources said the Florida Panthers are interested in Malkin for several reasons, and the Penguins are genuinely considering a Malkin trade. The trade talk is not a bluff.
Malkin told a Russian reporter at the IIHF World Championships, “I’m used to the talks I’m get traded, so it doesn’t get me nervous. Now I’m in the team Russia, and I’ll try to prove I’m good.”
From the Florida side, they are widely reported to be interested in unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin. Adding a Malkin-Panarin punch to their lineup would go a long way to making Florida competitive again. It would also add legitimate star power which some in Florida believe could sell tickets and revive a struggling fan base.
Florida was 30th of 31 teams in attendance this season. They averaged only 13,261 fans per game, but the number of visiting fans and seat giveaways pad the total. Florida hasn’t ranked higher than 22nd in attendance since 2012-13.
Also, having Malkin, 32, already on the roster would help to lure the Russian born Panarin, as well.
From the Penguins side, it is a poorly kept secret the coaches and management were unhappy with Malkin’s attitude this season. Sources told Pittsburgh Hockey Now some in the Penguins front office believe the Round One squash by the New York Islanders was proof the Penguins need a seismic shift in their core to extend their championship window with Sidney Crosby.
There appears to be a fluid nature to the current feelings. One conversation with Malkin could cement belief things must change, or one conversation could quell the situation. A couple of facts have become clear: The Penguins have not made a final decision as perhaps even they are struck by the enormity of the situation and there are varied opinions within the front office and Penguins hierarchy regarding how sweeping the changes should be for next season.
Malkin also has a no-movement clause and would have a voice regarding if, or where, he goes.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now believes the price for Malkin is a high scoring forward, a prospect, and a first-round draft pick. Circle Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau. Sources mentioned his name but it is unclear if Florida or Pittsburgh used his name in discussions. The 25-year-old Huberdeau was drafted as a center but has made his mark as a point-producing left wing who potted 30 goals and 92 points this season.
Huberdeau just completed the second year of a six-year, $35.4 million deal which carries a $5.9 million annual cap hit.
Florida also has several prospects including slick skating defenseman Max Gildon, 19, who is playing for the University of New Hampshire and exciting winger Aleksi Heponiemi, 20, who posted 46 points (16g, 30a) through 50 games in the Finnish Elite League. Heponiemi left the WHL after two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos to play at home in Finland.
Edit: We corrected the original report which stated Malkin has a no-trade clause. Rather, Malkin has a no-movement clause.