B/R NHL Roundtable: Ideal Landing Spots for Evgeni Malkin in 2022

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable: Ideal Landing Spots for Evgeni Malkin in 2022

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Penguins have been blessed with Hall of Fame-level talent throughout their history.

    From Mario Lemieux to Jaromir Jagr to Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin, Penguins fans have seen their wildest dreams come true. In the Crosby-Malkin era, the duo has produced three Stanley Cups and a combined three Hart Memorial Trophies, given to the NHL's Most Valuable Player at the end of the regular season.

    But all good things come to an end. Malkin is coming to the end of his eight-year, $76 million contract he signed back in 2013 and has yet to play a game during the 2021-22 season. The 35-year-old is inching closer to a return, but it's safe to say his best days are behind him.

    This could well be the Penguins' version of The Last Dance. Could we really see Geno end up on another team? If so, where would be the best fit for the talented Russian center?

    We posed that question to our B/R NHL writing staff. Read what they had to say about Malkin and make sure to share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Geno Heads to the Hurricanes

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The idea of Evgeni Malkin departing from the Pittsburgh Penguins after 16 NHL seasons seems ludicrous. He's slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer but indicated he's not concerned about his contract right now. His camp could work out a reasonable short-term deal with the Penguins, allowing him to finish his NHL playing career in Pittsburgh.

    However, there's also a good chance Malkin ends up searching for a new NHL home this summer. If so, he could find one with the Carolina Hurricanes, reuniting him with former Penguin Jordan Staal.

    Why the Hurricanes? For starters, they've become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Guided by well-respected head coach Rod Brind'Amour, they possess a potent offense led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, a deep defense core featuring Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, and a solid goaltending duo in Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta.

    The Hurricanes could be in the market for a center this summer if they're unable to agree to terms with pending UFA Vincent Trocheck. They could promote promising Jesperi Kotkaniemi into that spot, but the 21-year-old lacks experience in that role.

    Perhaps the biggest reason is the willingness of Hurricanes management to take risks. They successfully signed away Kotkaniemi last summer from the Montreal Canadiens with a one-year, $6.1 million contract. They also gambled on New York Rangers' castoff Tony DeAngelo, who's become their highest-scoring defenseman this season.

    At this stage in his career and given his recent injury history, Malkin won't garner another multiyear deal worth $9.5 million annually from the Penguins or anyone else. Perhaps he'll accept around $6 million annually on a two- or three-year deal with a Cup contender if he and the Penguins part ways.

    Cap Friendly indicates the Hurricanes have $57.4 million invested in 12 players next season. If they can get Malkin for $6 million annually, it should leave them sufficient space to fill out the remainder of their roster without breaking up their core to do so.

    - Lyle Richardson 

Geno Flies Southwest for the Winter

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    My prediction is that Geno stays with the Penguins. He'll take a discount to be able to retire in Pittsburgh and ride out his career with Crosby.  

    However, I realize that's not exactly a scorching hot take. So if that's what you're in the market for, then I think he should head west to Orange County. The Anaheim Ducks are a team on the rise, and considering they had an interest in acquiring Jack Eichel, they may still see center as a position that needs supplementing. 

    Ryan Getzlaf will also likely retire with the club that drafted him, but he has proved to still have a lot left in the tank this year, and the Ducks could sign him to another one-year deal to give the club a formidable veteran presence. It's not often you see a team with two centers over the age of 35 in the lineup, but this is a low-risk/high-reward type of signing considering the club has two young high-end centers in Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish. 

    The California teams have long been popular with veterans because of the weather and the markets. Players can play out the last years of their careers living by the beach in relative anonymity.

    The Ducks have not historically shied away from age either, but the only hangup here is that general manager Bob Murray is no longer running the show. Jeff Solomon is the interim general manager, and this is his first year with the club after a long stint with the Los Angeles Kings. Anaheim could decide to promote from within by tabbing Solomon or Martin Madden, an assistant general manager who is largely considered to be an up-and-coming general manager candidate. 

    A new general manager could decide to put their stamp on the organization by making a splashy signing like Malkin.

    Or the Ducks could go younger, and Malkin could end up right back where he started in Pittsburgh. 

    Abbey Mastracco 

Geno Takes His Stick and Goes Home

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    KHL Photo Agency/Getty Images

    Let's face it.

    The idea of Malkin not playing in Pittsburgh is not only unlikely, but it seems unnatural, too.

    Three Stanley Cups and more than a decade of playing a dynamic Robin to Crosby's superstar Batman makes the mere image of him in another NHL sweater difficult to stomach.

    Still, listen to any athlete and they'll recite the mantra: It's a business.

    And though Malkin recently entranced reporters with the claim that money won't mean as much to him on what'll presumably be his career-ending contract, it doesn't work that way for the team.

    General manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke won't have the luxury of not watching the bottom line as they try to rebuild the Penguins into a perennial championship contender, which means keeping a balky-kneed 35-year-old—even a still-productive one—at anything less than bargain-bin prices won't be cost-effective.

    So, in spite of all his "pretty rich guy" charm, Malkin is a world-class athlete with pride, and options, who's not likely to take anything less than what he believes he deserves—Steel City nostalgia or not.

    Still, while he'll have suitors around the league willing to shell out for a guy with his MVP pedigree, the thought here is it'll be just as hard for him to swallow the specter of calling another NHL rink home.

    Which means, well, how about just going home?

    Lest anyone forget, Malkin was plying his trade for his hometown team in Magnitogorsk, Russia, when the Penguins came calling with the second overall selection in the 2004 draft.

    He stayed there until finally making the full-time leap across the Atlantic in 2006, then returned for 37 KHL games during the NHL lockout in 2012-13 and scored 23 goals while producing 65 points.

    Assuming Pittsburgh doesn't meet his price and no other team seems palatable enough for him to continue playing in North America, we'll go ahead and envision a scenario where Malkin packs up his family and flies off into a Russian sunset—providing Vladimir Putin with a reason to buy season tickets.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons