Following the Penguins being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, some members of the local and national media have been buzzing about the need for Pittsburgh to trade Evgeni Malkin.
The idea behind trading Malkin would lead to Pittsburgh being able fill others holes throughout their lineup, such as their mediocre winger situation which isn’t possible when the Penguins have 21.4 million tied up into three centers.
What is rarely brought up is that the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal all on their rookie contracts. In 2009, Pittsburgh claimed a Stanley Cup title with Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin still on their rookie contracts.
Yes, Pittsburgh won a Stanley Cup with their current three center model but they did so without having $21.4 million invested into their three centers.
Now they do and the dilemma that Penguins management has to contend with is whether they are going to be able to fill enough holes beyond their core centers and goaltender Marc Andre Fleury ($5 million cap hit) to be a championship caliber team year after year.
As an organization the Penguins no longer strive just to make the playoffs, they strive to win Stanley Cups.
Throw out the Penguins 9-1 start and they were a 45-40 team (including playoffs, OTL) and during the second half of the season, the Penguins looked like a team that wouldn’t get out of the second round.
Many just thought it would have happened against the likes of Washington or New Jersey, not Montreal.
The Penguins are currently built where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have to be among the top-5 players in the game for them to compete for a Stanley Cup.
If the Penguins two stars are not, Pittsburgh is going to have a difficult time at advancing far in the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin was not in 2009-2010. “We think Geno is a 114 point guy and he wasn’t that guy for us this year, ” Head coach Dan Bylsma said on Friday.
If Pittsburgh were to listen to offers for Malkin in the next month, the interest would be phenomenal with league sources naming Los Angeles and St. Louis as two prominent teams that would have extreme interest and the assets to at least gauge Pittsburgh’s interest.
However, a trade is not going to happen and Penguins management under GM Ray Shero are fully expected to move forward with their three centers for at least one more season.
Multiple team sources I’ve been in contact with over the past 24 hours don’t expect the thought of trading Malkin to even be discussed internally this off-season.
The Penguins believe in winning with superstars but first and foremost their going to have to find a way surround Malkin and Crosby with better players.
That could start with going away from the three-center approach by moving Evgeni Malkin to wing and getting Jordan Staal a full-time role on the top-2 lines as a center.
There’s been some disappointment around the team that the coaching staff didn’t give Staal and Malkin a more extensive look together this season.
The two played together sparingly this season but were effective when they did play together. A game that jumps out to many was against the Detroit Red Wings on January 31, 2010, when Bylsma opted to play Staal and Malkin together.
Bylsma, however, never went back to Staal and Malkin in any kind of extensive role as the Penguins remain infatuated with their three center model.
Staal and Malkin enjoy playing together and it’s not as hard as many think to find a capable third line center to replace Staal.
Those close to Staal also contend that he wants to play a top-2 line scoring role and doesn’t want to be stuck on the third line for the next three years.
What also needs to be considered is Sidney Crosby’s future. While it’s extremely hard to ever imagine him wanting to leave Pittsburgh, Crosby did not sign an Alexander Ovechkin type of deal and only has three years left on his contract.
Crosby would never go to management and demand that he needs better wingers but there has been whispers this season from Crosby’s camp that he was frustrated at times with the lack of quality wingers he has played with.
Some of that frustration could have been seen against Montreal in the playoffs.
With limited resources, it’s going to remain a difficult task by Penguins management to ever surround both Malkin and Crosby through free agency or trades with wingers who can actually elevate the play of the Penguins two stars.
Assuming the Penguins stick with their plan to build around Crosby, Malkin and Staal, moving Malkin to wing permanently has to be something at least seriously considered by the organization.