By Mark Madden
By e-mail, by phone, by message board, EVERYWHERE…I get berated (by a vocal, stupid minority, I reckon) because I have the temerity to say the emperor has no clothes: That Evgeni Malkin is having a crap season and isn’t worth $8.7m.
I’m careful to put forth disclaimers: Yes, he might be hurt. No, his linemates aren’t the greatest. Yes, I think he’s trying his best.
But the fact remains that 36 points in 41 games, including just two assists in his last five games, is unacceptable for a player of his talent and paycheck. I can’t see how that point of view can possibly be criticized.
My integrity is frequently impugned. A typical accusation: YOU HATE GENO. YOU’RE BIASED AGAINST GENO. YOU DON’T LIKE GENO. This, despite the truthful admission that I have no relationship with Geno, good or bad. I wouldn’t want a Russian superstar, I admit that: Aside from Pavel Datsyuk, I think the proof is in that pudding.
Facts are facts: Malkin is 48th in the NHL in scoring. He makes more money than all but two NHL players.
With that in mind, I hereby issue the EVGENI MALKIN CHALLENGE. Critics, tell me why you think I’m biased against Malkin. Tell me what I have to gain by criticizing his production. It certainly doesn’t get me ratings. Steelers talk gets me ratings. So please, do tell how being anti-Malkin benefits me, the Super Genius.
I want the Penguins to win. I want Malkin to do well. I don’t gloat. I don’t wallow. I’m puzzled by his 130-game “slump,” just like you.
It’s the worst kind of problem: The kind with no solution. I’d have thought a “come to Jesus” meeting between Dan Bylsma/Ray Shero and Geno might be forthcoming, but what would be said? “Geno, we need you to score more.” Language barrier duly noted, I bet Malkin has that figured out.
It’s not put-up-or-shut-up time for Malkin, mainly because he doesn’t talk much. It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for YOU. You think I hate Malkin. State evidence thereof. Tell me what agenda I’m serving. And when you can’t, SHUT UP.
Saying I defend Crosby and Fleury when they struggle isn’t valid. A) Neither has slumped THIS LONG and B) What’s that have to do with Malkin? NOTHING.
Make sure your entry addresses the issue and isn’t merely designed to switch the argument to one you can win. Malkin apologists are good at that.
Answers, please, to email@example.com or on the comments board to your right. Hell, put ‘em anywhere.
But the reality is, Malkin is in a deep, deep stretch of bad play that, since the ’09 playoffs, has featured only momentary flashes of brilliance. Criticizing Malkin is not only reasonable, but obvious to anyone with a lick of hockey knowledge. Or eyes.
Sidney Crosby figured out a way to make the scoring race interesting: He got a concussion.
Speculation runs rampant regarding Sid’s return, but nobody knows. He’ll play again when he’s symptom-free. Not before.
I think it would be reasonable for Crosby to be sidelined through month’s end. And it might deliver a message if Sid sat out the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 30 at Raleigh. “Properly police shots to the head, and perhaps your marquee player would be in your showcase event,” or words to that effect.
At any rate, no need to hurry back for THAT. Sid won the fans vote. For branding purposes, that’s what matters most. The game itself is a no-check afterthought.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).