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Evgeni Malkin gearing up to return in near future

The big center speaks to the media yesterday for the first time since May

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Anytime Evgeni Malkin speaks to the media, it’s always gold. Yesterday in Malkin’s first public comments since May were no exception.

In the immediate future, Malkin gave some specifics on the timeline for his return to the lineup following off-season knee surgery. He ruled himself out for the Penguins next two games, on Sunday at home against San Jose and next Wednesday against St Louis.

“I can’t say 100 percent when I’m going to be back,” Malkin said. “I hope next week, maybe 10 days. Sunday, no chance. When we have a western trip, maybe one of those games for sure.”

After Sunday and Wednesday, the Pens go to Philadelphia and then head West as Malkin mentioned. It’s been fruitless to keep up with the schedule but as the NHL slowly lurches back, here is what is on the books in the first part of January.

Coincidentally, or not, Malkin threw out “10 days” and the Dallas game on January 8th was 10 days out from that comment. If Malkin doesn’t break back into the lineup for that game, then it looks likely he will be making his debut sometime in California in the following week (making the possible big assumption that the season is able to stick to the schedule).

Aside from his debut in the 2021-22 season, Malkin was also asked about the longer-term future and used his famous wit and humor to give insight when asked about his contract situation.

“No, no, I’m not thinking about my contract. I’m not thinking about money. I’m a pretty rich guy (laughs). I’m not thinking about money. I want my game back. We have a great group, great coaches. I’ve missed hockey so much. It’s not easy, but I want to play three or four more years, and I feel I can.”

It can be dangerous to read too much into an athlete’s words in these times (remember Jaromir Jagr saying he would play for the Pens for league minimum about a decade ago?), but it does give some insight into Malkin’s future plans.

First, now at age-35, he wants to play for a while longer. Part of Malkin’s decision to go the surgical route was to ensure that he didn’t need “to worry every game about my knee” and give more long-term stability with the more serious option to resolve his issue.

Sidney Crosby, as mentioned, has three more years left after this one on his existing contract. Financially speaking, with a salary cap bump to an upper limit of $82.5 million next season, should Malkin sign for anything less than $12 million per year, he will be using less of the salary cap then when his current contract kicked in.

For the time being, it definitely felt like Malkin could be taken at face value in saying he’s more excited about his impending return to play the game rather than worrying about his future contract.

“Every day, I feel better and better. Now, I’m skating with the team, almost full contact. The last six months were not fun, not easy. It’s a long process. Now it’s more fun. I’m glad to be back with the team. I hope I can play soon.”

Soon enough that should be a reality.