Could Pittsburgh Penguins icon Evgeni Malkin find himself on another team sooner rather than later?
The time comes for every franchise where the older veterans need to be traded for the highest value possible when the contention for the Stanley Cup is no longer feasible, and that grim reality could soon be on the horizon for Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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While it is still very early in the 2020-21 NHL season, the Penguins are not off to the grand start we’d expect from them after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season as a result of being bounced in the Best of 5 Play-In Round to the Montreal Canadiens. At just 5-5-1 in a dominant East Division, Pittsburgh will have to play out of their minds to simply contend for a wild card spot, nevermind win their division.
In the team’s lack of success, a star that used to shine bright has grown rather dull lately. Starting in the summer’s Bubble to contend for a seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, one of the most underwhelming performances came from former league MVP, Evgeni Malkin. In four games played against the Canadiens in last year’s postseason, the 34-year-old tallied just one assist while being a minus-three on the ice. Even with his highest average ice time per game being the highest since 2013-14 at 20:43, the only positive for the Russian superstar was his elevated faceoff percentage compared to recent years.
Could the Pittsburgh Penguins look to trade Evgeni Malkin?
Simply put, Evgeni Malkin looked to be a fraction of what he was before the COVID-19 lockdown, and these struggles have carried into the 2020-21 NHL season. In 11-games played, Geno has just 2 goals and 4 assists with a minus-two on the season. Comparatively, this is not the same player who notched 25 goals and 49 assists in just 55 games played a year ago. Malkin looks as though he’s just passing by on the ice and it’s getting to be more and more noticeable with each passing day.
As mentioned before, there comes a time when a franchise needs to dish out some of their aging veterans and be compensated for whatever value they may still have. Based on last year’s postseason and the start of the regular-season, is Evgeni Malkin poised to become trade bait as we edge further along in the year? If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past about the Chicago Blackhawks and their decline, it’s that the signs were clear as day that it was going downhill, and similar signs are beginning to show for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Their farm system is nearly deprived of new talent as the Pens have called up nearly every player with NHL potential at this point. Additionally, the Penguins have also had unsuccessful drafts in recent memory. Since 2015, they’ve had just one selection in the 1st Round of the NHL Entry Draft (RW Samuel Poulin – No. 21 overall selection in 2019). Because of this, the franchise has been unable to replenish the pipeline with more young talent, leaving a deprived talent pool of skill for the NHL team to pick from.
When the Blackhawks were still contending for the Playoffs, their final warning sign was their 4-0 series loss to the Nashville Predators in the First Round that followed a Game Seven loss to the St. Louis Blues in the First Round just one year prior. The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered a crushing loss to the Habs last summer, in a series where they were simply dominated by red sweaters in every facet of the game. Should Pittsburgh continue to follow this weary path, trading Evgeni Malkin for draft compensation is far from the worst idea they could have.
The veteran roster is simply not getting any younger, and some consideration for the future is in order if they want to avoid looking like the Chicago Blackhawks. Getting rid of captain Sidney Crosby is obviously out of the question, but their 34-year old second-line center who is in the midst of a tough slump, may not be that far out as many would like to think. With no First, Third, or Fourth-Round Draft picks in 2021, the Pittsburgh Penguins and forward Evgeni Malkin need to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they can turn this around, or if they should get what they can now and go their separate ways.