The whole concept is gross, but at some point it needs to be talked about before it’s too late. Evgeni Malkin told the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday that he wanted to go to the free agency on Wednesday to see what the market holds for him. Malkin has never been even close to such an opportunity, and with negotiations between his side and the Pens not going well, he’s ready to at least move on to see what is out there.
As Sportsnet noted when they talked about potential landing spots, perhaps Pittsburgh is still the most likely landing space. We have seen a similar situation unfold a few years ago, when Tampa Bay’s center Steven Stamkos dipped his toe into the UFA waters, only to quickly pull it back and stay with the Lightning. Still, here is what Sportsnet came up with, as crappy as the idea is, let’s rank them based on team fit, player preferences and just some common sense.
Team fit: 2/10
Player fit: 1/10
Common sense: 0/10
This whole idea is terrible. Was this mentioned just to troll that Jaromir Jagr chose the Flyers offer a decade ago in free agency instead of the significantly smaller Pittsburgh offer? Malkin to Philadelphia makes zero sense, aside from the fact that nothing that Flyers’ management does has sound logic, so perhaps with reverse bizzaro reasoning that means it does circle around to actually make sense. Back into the world of the normal, the Flyers have very limited cap space (CapFriendly says $3.7 million), though they might try to move James van Riemsdyk to clear out some. But come on, you think Evgeni Malkin is signing up to play for freakin’ John Tortorella?
Team fit: 1/10
Player fit: 2/10
Common sense: 1/10
This thing called the salary cap exists, even though no one is able to find ways to stretch the upper limits than Tampa, this is just too high a hill to climb. Unless Malkin just wanted to take an absolute minimum — which doesn’t seem to be the case given his stance with negotiations with the Pens — there’s no room for him, and no good reason for him to go. Plus the Lightning have Ondrej Palat on deck for a new contract, that will be their priority.
Team fit: 2/10
Player fit: 7/10
Common sense: 3/10
Now, this actually could have been a really good fit — until Capitals’ general manager Brian MacLellan said last week that Nicklas Backstrom is going to attempt to play next season. That presumably means no long-term injured reserve for Backstrom, which means no cap space for a big signing like Malkin. And besides, the Caps currently have zero NHL goalies on their roster, they have bigger fish to fry in the early frenzy of free agency. They can paper over the loss of Backstrom with some internal, younger options (Connor McMichael, perhaps Hendrix Lapierre) and if there’s no LTIR in play, this doesn’t make sense. However, if MacLellan meant the return would be pushed off until playoffs, perhaps the calculus changes. That still would probably mean a one-year deal at most, though, which might not work for Malkin.
#3 Los Angeles
Team fit: 4/10
Player fit: 8/10
Common sense: 3/10
Los Angeles is a known glamour spot for anyone, but Russian hockey players especially. However, they already have a $10 million veteran center in Anze Kopitar, and Philip Danault. And recent top pick Quinton Byfield is going to be pushing for a spot down in the middle in the lineup as well. The Kings also only have $3.8 million in cap space, and probably already made their big splash with the trade and mega-contract for Kevin Fiala. Money can be moved around, but Malkin isn’t much a match here either, despite being fairly high on the list.
Team fit: 7/10
Player fit: 5/10
Common sense: 5/10
There’s the Rutherford/Allvin factor, which could only bode in favor of this since the relationship is there and both sides will be comfortable with one another. The Canucks might have to move on via a trade of J.T Miller, which could open the door big time for having a suitable replacement in Malkin to bring in. As far as Malkin landing spots go, you don’t have to squint too hard to see a match here. Cap space isn’t a great situation, but a Rutherford-led club will never let that slide some pieces around and find a way to make it work if they really wanted to do something.
#1 New York (Rangers)
Team fit: 6/10
Player fit: 9/10
Common sense: 7/10
This would hurt to see Malkin go to a rival, but the Rangers would definitely be the team to watch, at least from this listing. They are seeing Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome move into free agency. New York City is a massive draw and marquee location for a guy like Malkin (and surely for his wife). The Rangers have $10 million in space now, but still some signings to make. It’s not a seamless or perfect match, but has a lot of points in its favor.
And other ideas...
While not listed by Sportsnet specifically, there are some other locales that make sense on the surface.
New Jersey doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of NY, but it’s not far off either. The Devils are said to be big players in the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes and will be making a run for him on the market tomorrow. If they miss out, could Malkin be an option? They have more than enough cap space, and their own Penguin connections with their current GM Tom Fitzgerald being a former Pittsburgh staffer.
Detroit has $30 million in cap space, and though they’ve been content to build slowly and clear out highly-paid veterans, adding Malkin would add some excitement for their season and at least give their young core a legit veteran to play with and have around. Not sure this location would totally fit either party, but with that kind of cap space, the Red Wings would be one of the few teams to easily be able and sign Malkin without blinking if they so wanted.
Dallas is another spot that lines up well. They have almost $18 million in cap space, but do need to re-sign Jason Robertson, goalie phenom Jake Oetteger and probably replace John Klingberg. The Stars have gotten tremendous success out of a late-career signing in Joe Pavelski, and quickly scooped up 36-year old Ryan Suter to a four-year deal last summer, they do not seem like the type of organization opposed to bringing in older players that can help.
The best outcome would clearly still be Malkin seeing that the grass isn’t always greener and staying in Pittsburgh on a deal that works for both parties would be the proper way to move forward and close out a legendary career with the same team from start to finish. Pretty soon we’ll see how the shuffle shakes out, as Malkin gets to take a look at the open market for the first time in his career.