The Pittsburgh Penguins are really fortunate to have two of the best players in the league at the same position, on the same team. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL and Evgeni Malkin is probably one of the five most talented players in the league. That's why those two have been dubbed the "two-headed monster."
When the Penguins landed Crosby it rejuvenated the franchise. Sid is a once-in-a-lifetime player, who gives 110 percent on almost every shift. Crosby also says and does the right things off the ice. Then in the 2004 draft, the Pens landed Malkin with the second overall pick. Malkin lived up to his billing early, getting 85 points in his first season, winning the Calder trophy for Rookie of the year. He followed that season by having 106 points and helping the Pens get the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Pens rewarded Geno with a new contract, five years, 8.7 million a year, which was very similar to Crosby's deal.
In 2007-2008, Crosby went down with an injury, causing him to miss 29 games,but Malkin stepped his game up and kept the Penguins afloat in the playoff picture. He also went on to win the Art Ross trophy, which is given to the leading scorer in the National Hockey League. Malkin finished first in points with 113 and was also the runner-up to Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin for the Hart Trophy (League MVP).
Malkin continued his dominance in the playoffs that year, helping the Pens win their third Stanley Cup in the history of the franchise. Malkin finished as the top scorer in the playoffs and took home the Conn Smythe trophy, which is given to the playoff MVP.
After that season, a lot of people began to think that Malkin was the best player on his team, better then Crosby, and some suggested that he was the most complete player in the league. His popularity was at an all-time high, and his parents even became popular cult figures at the games. Despite his lack of English, Malkin was considered hilarious by most and was the toast of the town.
Then came last season. Malkin suffered his first real injury and missed 13 games. He had very disappointing year by his standards, finishing with 28 goals and 77 points. Crosby on the other hand, tied Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lighting for the league lead in goals with 51, earning him a share of the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy. Malkin continued his struggling ways in the playoffs, as he and the Pens were upset by the Montreal Canadians in the second round of the playoffs.
Like most, I thought that Malkin would bounce back in a big way this year. So far he has yet to do that. Right now, Malkin is on pace for a 69-point season, which is well below his standards. It's also below standards for a guy making 8.7 million a year. His teammate, Crosby, who makes the same amount of money as he does, leads the league in points, and continues to grow as a player.
Unlike Malkin, Crosby doesn't seem to go in as drastic droughts as he does. Malkin often disappears in games, and glides too much on the ice. Crosby on the other hand,works for his points and the puck.
When Malkin turns it on he's often the best player on the ice, but most nights he takes way too long on shifts, and often plays lethargic hockey. Unlike Malkin, Crosby works on his weaknesses, like faceoffs for example.
I hear a lot of people defending Malkin, saying that people like myself are too hard on him. I say that my frustration with Geno is warranted, because his talent and skill set are not matching his effort and production. I also say it's warranted because he makes the same amount of money as Crosby, and only gets half the production.
The same people defending Malkin will tell you and I that he's not getting the point production because he doesn't have good enough players on the same line as him. I would answer that by telling you in the salary cap era, when you pay two centers 8.7 million, you're not going to have wingers like Rick Nash. Instead you get a Maxime Talbot, or a Matt Cooke, or even a Tyler Kennedy. When you make 8.7 million and you're a center, it's your job to make your wingers appear better then they really are. After all that's what Crosby does with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
Instead of giving Malkin a whopping 8.7 million a year, maybe the Pens could have been smarter and given him a deal similar to Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. Backstrom, who is also a center was awarded a 10 year deal, worth 6.7 million a year. Malkin may be more talented then Backstrom but he certainly isn't producing as much. Backstrom finished fourth in the league in points last year and is on pace for another top 10 finish this year. Malkin might not finish in the top 25.
I'm also disappointed in head coach Dan Bylsma's way of handling Malkin. Bylsma seems to baby Malkin, saying that Malkin is still playing good hockey and good defense. I'm sorry but I don't think a player getting paid 8.7 million a year is there to play good defensive hockey. That's what you have a checking line for. Geno's job is to get the puck and make something happen with it.
Hopefully, when Pens' center Jordan Staal returns, it will give Malkin a boost in more ways then one. They can play Staal on Malkin's line, and move Malkin to wing, giving him a better chance to score and let Staal worry about back-checking and playing good defensive hockey.
Either way Malkin's production is not matching the amount of money the Penguins are paying him. I want to see more effort from Malkin like we see with Crosby. Talent is everything, you still have to work hard. I'm not sure what the real reason is for his inconsistency but something has to change. Malkin is paid like an elite player so I don't think that it's unreasonable to expect elite play from him on a more consistent basis.
This article also appears on the very popular Pittsburgh blog 412sportstalk