Evgeni Malkin exits the Penguins tunnel last, is the only Penguin since Mario Lemieux to win the Calder trophy as rookie-of-the-year, has won the Hart trophy and finished second twice, won the Conne Smythe trophy and twice won the Art Ross Trophy. Malkin has averaged more than a point-per-game in 11 of his 12 seasons, has made seven All-Star games, and the NHL Network lists Malkin as the third best center in the NHL behind only superstars Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. And, he “played “three years, (Russian) super league.”
Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin, 32, has already had an envious career worthy of even more accolades. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-3 powerful center with extraordinary offensive creativity and soft mitts is perennially overlooked as one of the greats of the game. He was famously snubbed and left off the NHL’s Top 100 list. Last season, Malkin finished a distant seventh in Hart Trophy voting despite finishing fourth in scoring and being the highest scoring center whose team made the playoffs. He was the dominant force yet finished a distant fourth in the end of season All-Star voting.
Reputation goes a long way in Hart Trophy and All-Star voting. Malkin does not get the benefit of the doubt in those votes.
Yesterday (8/7) was Sidney Crosby’s birthday. The day was filled with media coverage of Crosby’s career and fan discussion, perhaps because it’s numerologically interesting since Crosby wears 87 in honor of his birthday or simply because it’s Sidney Crosby.
July 31 was Malkin’s birthday. There may have been some Facebook or Instagram memes, but there was otherwise no great discussion of him or his career.
Malkin has lived in the shadow of all-time greats during his entire career, including in Russia as a “second banana” to Alex Ovechkin and to Crosby in Pittsburgh.
The Russian giant doesn’t seem to care about such optics, at least before being snubbed for honors. Malkin went on a tear after being left off the Top 100 list. He scored 10 goals in his next 12 games. Like a thoroughbred, he galloped through the second half of last season chasing the Art Ross trophy and Hart trophy until it was clear the Penguins were solidly in the playoffs and team focus turned to playoff preparation. He finished with 98 points (42g, 56a).
Malkin has never worn the “C” in international play, despite Russia’s continued disappointments in the Olympics and international play under Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin. Malkin has not worn a “C” in the NHL, either, though he has stood up to speak in the Penguins locker room and to the organization at critical times. Based on stories from those close to Malkin, PHN believes Malkin sternly pushed the Penguins organization to improve in the summer of 2015 and Malkin spoke in the locker room during the Nov. 2015 team meltdown in New Jersey.
When Crosby battled concussion symptoms for over one year, Malkin carried the 2011-12 Penguins. Not coincidentally, he won his first Hart trophy and the Art Ross with 109 points (50g, 59a).
No team in the salary cap era has been blessed with the same wealth of homegrown talent. In fact, few teams in the modern era have boasted the best two players in hockey. But for the second time in two generations, the Pittsburgh Penguins have that blessing.
And so Penguins fans and the Penguins organization should feel lucky they not only have a second great player but that Malkin is content in his role without the internal need to prove himself as a captain or alpha dog. Not many great athletes would thrive in the same situation. The same motivation which makes them great is the usually the same which makes them seek the recognition of it.
Malkin gritted his teeth to play through a debilitating wrist or arm injury in the 2016 Stanley Cup run, has played with substandard linemates for large portions of his career but continues to produce whatever the team needs.
A pair of Stanley Cups seems to have quelled the fan schism of “Team Malkin” vs. “Team Crosby”, which was at times ugly. Penguins fans now realize they are extremely fortunate to have a pair of team-first stars…even if one doesn’t get nearly the attention from the rest of the hockey world that he deserves.