After being uncharacteristically swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of this year’s NHL playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins are ready for a retool. Just two years removed from back to back Stanley Cup championships, Pens’ GM Jim Rutherford has a busy summer ahead.
One concern for the Penguins is that they’re built around aging superstars, namely Sidney Crosby (turning 31 this summer), Kris Letang (32) and Evgeni Malkin (turning 33 this summer). While all three are still incredible talents, the question has been posed: Could the Penguins trade Malkin this summer to kick-start a successful retool? Let’s unpack this.
Why Trade Malkin?
On the 31 Thoughts Podcast with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, the idea of Malkin being moved this summer was brought up by Friedman, who’s a highly respected NHL insider at Sportsnet/CBC. Here’s what Elliotte had to say about Malkin possibly being put on the trade block:
” I did get a call last night from somebody who has heard the rumors, and he thinks that they are not media make-up. He thinks they are legit. Malkin didn’t have a great year. He wasn’t up to Malkin standards. And [this source] is wondering if they’re trying to rattle [Malkin’s] cage a little bit. Just to say, “you know Evgeni, last year wasn’t you. We want you to be you,” and maybe this is a way of doing it. Malkin has a no-movement clause, and the word is he’s at least thinking about would he agree [to waive it]. “
Yeah, there’s something to this. Experts and insiders alike usually don’t just spit this stuff out. One way or another, there’s truth to the trade rumours about Malkin. He has a no-move clause in his contract which would make it impossible for Pittsburgh to work out a deal to ship out their Russian superstar without his approval. He also gets to approve specific teams that he wants to be traded to, if he does in fact waive his no-move clause.
In other words, if Malkin wants to stay in Pittsburgh, then they ain’t trading him. However, the fact that these rumours are out there indicates that the Pens think it’s possible to trade Malkin, meaning they believe there’s a chance he’d be willing to leave.
Note: These rumours may in fact be out there just to “rattle Malkin’s cage”, meaning that the Pens are letting Malkin know that he isn’t untouchable anymore. For entertainment purposes, let’s assume that there’s some truth in these rumours, instead of just being a PR strategy.
So just how good is Evgeni “Geno” Malkin?
Evgeni Malkin has been the best second line centre in the NHL since he was drafted second overall by Pittsburgh in 2004. On most of the other 30 teams in the NHL, he’d be a first line centre and franchise cornerstone. The reason he’s not a first liner in Pittsburgh is simply because of Sidney Crosby. The Penguins were blessed to draft two franchise centremen in back to back drafts; for the last 13 years or so, it’s been amazing. Malkin accepted his role, and played like a star regardless. He’s put up monster numbers throughout his career and has a Hall of Fame resume. 3x Cup Champ. 2x Art Ross winner. Hart Trophy winner. Calder trophy winner. Conn Smythe winner. This guy’s done it all.
For the Penguins, it’s simply business. They need a change, a retool of sorts. They need more depth offensively and defensively. By trading Malkin, the Pens would get a great haul that, if managed properly, could lead to more success as Pittsburgh tries to build around Crosby before he retires. Trading Malkin makes sense, if the right deal is there. With that in mind, here are some teams that “Geno” could be traded to and what the Pens could get in return:
Florida is poised to make a couple splashes this offseason. They recently appointed the legendary Joel Quenneville as head coach, and their owner Vincent Viola is ready to start winning in a hurry. While they’ve been linked to a number of pending UFAs this summer including Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, they could make themselves a real contender by making a move for Malkin. Florida has also expressed interest in acquiring Geno, according to Elliotte Friedman. They already have a first line centre in Aleksander Barkov, but clearly Malkin can play on the second line and be just fine.
To Florida: Evgeni Malkin
To Pittsburgh: Jonathan Huberdeau, Michael Matheson, a 2020 first round pick and a 2021 second round pick.
This trade would give Pittsburgh viable players at positions of need for the long term. Huberdeau can play on the first line next to Sid, or centre the second line as Malkin’s replacement at a team friendly cap hit of $5.9 million through 2022-23. Matheson is a solid top 4 defenseman who’s signed for the next 7 years, and both players are 25 years old. This trade would set up the Pens for the future, but also allow them to compete right now.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are another team that Elliotte Friedman mentioned having interest if Malkin were available via trade. Having missed the playoffs the last two seasons and undergoing a rebuild of sorts, the Blueshirts are ready to win again. Trading for Malkin would give them a franchise centre to compliment a solid defense corps and a young roster. The only question is whether Jim Rutherford would be willing to trade a superstar within his own division, which is important to consider. Regardless, here’s a possible trade:
To New York: Evgeni Malkin
To Pittsburgh: Brady Skjei, Jimmy Vesey, 2020 first round pick.
With this move, the Rangers put themselves into a great position to succeed for the next 5 years or so. The Penguins get a top 2 defensman in Brady Skjei, who’s under contract at $5.25 million for the next 5 years. Jimmy Vesey is still a young forward at 25, but could benefit from a change of scenery after putting up mediocre numbers in his first three seasons (27 points, 28 points, 35 points respectively). The main issue with this trade: Is Brady Skjei considered untouchable by the Rangers, and are they willing to part with him for a 33 year old centreman? If they really want to go for it, maybe this is something that New York considers.
Another team that could be interested in acquiring Geno’s services is Nashville. After a disappointing first round loss in a year in which many saw them going far, GM David Poile will look to be aggressive to get his team back to the promised land. If there’s one GM in the NHL who’s willing to make a blockbuster deal, it’s David Poile. Look no further than the P.K. Subban/Shea Weber deal in 2016 that shook the hockey world. The Preds could throw Malkin on the first line and slide Ryan Johansen to the wing, creating a potential deadly first line of Forsberg – Malkin – Johansen.
To Nashville: Evgeni Malkin
To Pittsburgh: P.K. Subban
This may be a reach, but it’d be a hell of a trade if it happened. Both teams acquire star players in the trade, and the Penguins get a horse on the back end in Subban to pair with the aging Kris Letang. The money balances out as well, as Subban is making $9 million through 2021-22, which matches the length of Malkin’s contract. With a plethora of quality defensemen on the Preds’ roster, is moving Subban something that Poile considers in order to beef up his offense? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t put it past these two teams to surprise us all with a blockbuster trade of this magnitude.