Updated Landing Spots for Free Agent Penguins Forward Evgeni Malkin

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIJuly 3, 2022

Updated Landing Spots for Free Agent Penguins Forward Evgeni Malkin

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    AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

    Other than some kid named Sidney Crosby, no one is more Pittsburgh than Evgeni Malkin.

    The Russian-born center joined the organization when the Penguins made him the second pick in the 2004 draft and he's since spent 16 seasons on the ice in a black-and-gold sweater, scoring 511 goals in 1,158 regular- and postseason games.

    Along the way he's lifted the Stanley Cup three times while adding a Calder Trophy, a Hart Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a pair of Hart trophies to his mantelpiece.

    Given all that, it's hard to imagine his career ending anywhere else.

    But it could happen, thanks to his imminent status as a 35-year-old free agent coming off a deal that paid $9.5 million annually on a team with nine other free agents to decide upon.

    According to Josh Yohe of the Athletic, a return to the Steel City is "no sure thing."

    The B/R hockey team considered those issues and others while compiling a list of the top landing spots for a sure-fire Hall of Famer who'll be without a team as of July 13.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with and leave us a viewpoint or two of your own in the comments.

New York Rangers

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    AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

    The New York Rangers are close.

    Coach Gerard Gallant and Co. got to the final four in the recently completed playoffs, pushing the Tampa Bay Lightning to six games before finally bowing out in the Eastern Conference championship series.

    They'd beaten Pittsburgh and Carolina in a pair of seven-game duels along the way.

    They've got a pair of significant forwards headed to free agency in Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp but a move to midtown Manhattan would allow Malkin to slot in as a No. 2 center alongside an elite winger in Artemi Panarin, had 96 points in 75 games in 2021-22.

    Having Panarin as a linemate might soften the blow of a sudden change of residence for Malkin, and helping the Rangers hang the first banner at Madison Square Garden since 1994 would do something for a legacy that success in no other city could match.

Florida Panthers

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    AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

    Speaking of close, the Florida Panthers are too.

    And they're not so happy about it.

    The league's southernmost residents had a stellar regular season and won a President's Trophy as a prize, but bowed out in the second round after a particularly inglorious four-game sweep by Tampa Bay.

    It was the second straight season in which Florida was erased by the Lightning and continued a stretch of 25 consecutive seasons in which the team has failed to win more than a single playoff series.

    General Manager Bill Zito's trade-deadline deal for Philadelphia forward Claude Giroux shows that the front office isn't averse to going after a battle-tested veteran, and a guy like Malkin could be the final piece to get the Panthers over the hump against their in-state rivals.

    Given only $3 million in available salary cap space, it'll take some fiscal maneuvering by Zito to reach Malkin's number and get him in the fold. But if he's looking for a place where a fourth championship is within reach, "Geno" could do a lot worse.

Washington Capitals

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    AP Photo/Nick Wass

    Injury necessity could be the mother of free-agency invention.

    The Washington Capitals have 34-year-old center Nicklas Backstrom under contract for three more seasons at $9.2 million apiece, but his future is in question these days after he underwent resurfacing surgery on his left hip in mid-June.

    Neither the player nor team have made a commitment on his status for the 2022-23 season, and if the procedure leads Backstrom to retirement an opportunity will emerge.

    Scrubbing the remaining $27.6 million from the books would presumably be enough to entice Malkin to make the move to Washington, though it'd take a fair bit of practice for him to look at the red, white and blue sweater and have it not register as the enemy.

    But if you can ponder him centering a line with fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin—the only player picked ahead of him in 2004—and not be intrigued, you may not be a real fan.

Anaheim Ducks

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    AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

    There are a lot of reasons to like Anaheim.

    No, the Ducks haven't won a Stanley Cup in 15 years, but they were in the Pacific Division race through the first half of the 2021-22 season and they'll come back in the fall with a team that boasts skilled youngsters like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry.

    Those two combined for 60 goals and 128 points and could provide precisely the jolt of enthusiasm needed to inspire a soon-to-be 36-year-old Malkin to repeat his 26-year-old feats.

    And if he looks outside in January, let's just say he'll know it's not Pittsburgh.

    The average first-month temperature at the home of Disneyland is nearly double what's typical of western Pennsylvania (69 degrees to 35 degrees) shortly after New Year's Day, so if Malkin wants to take his talents to a California beach and play an exciting brand of hockey with an up-and-coming team, the Ducks provide that chance.

New Jersey Devils

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    AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

    The New Jersey Devils are not the New York Rangers.

    In fact, they're not even the New York Islanders.

    But they do play in what's liberally considered the "New York metropolitan area" and they have been successful there, winning three Stanley Cups and advancing to the championship round as recently as 2012 before losing to the Los Angeles Kings.

    What else do they have? A GM who'll spend money.

    The Devils arrived to the offseason with $25.3 million, the league's seventh-largest cap space number, and Tom Fitzgerald made a big splash last season when he enticed defenseman Dougie Hamilton to leave Carolina with a seven-year, $63 million deal.

    On the ice, Malkin could provide wisdom and production while skating alongside a fleet of young forwards including former No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

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