Evgeni Malkin had a very good playoff series vs. Ottawa: four goals and four assists.
Sidney Crosby had an AMAZING playoff series vs. Ottawa: five goals and nine assists.
Does that mean Malkin was disappointing?
Uh, yeah. In a way.
Malkin and Crosby each makes $8.7m, so I expect similar production. One playoff series is too small a microcosm. But for the long run, that is a realistic expectation, especially given cap implications.
Some say Malkin has inferior wingers compared to Crosby. That’s often true, but the difference has been negligible save Sid’s short stint with Marian Hossa. Malkin’s game isn’t as high-octane as Crosby’s, who has more dash to go with his flash. When both are healthy, Malkin never faces a checking line. Look at the Ottawa series, where Crosby was, by far, the Senators’ primary concern, yet he still shredded them. Malkin out-pointed Crosby in last year’s Stanley Cup final, but that’s because Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datysuk were both used to contain Crosby. That doesn’t diminish Malkin’s Conn Smythe Trophy, but it’s a fact.
In the cap era, it’s going to be tough for a team that pays $17.4m to two players to win unless both produce at an extraordinary rate. The Penguins can’t afford for either Crosby or Malkin to be ordinary.
What’s best would be for Crosby and Malkin to both consistently finish among the NHL’s top five scorers. This year, Malkin did not (though he would have come close had he not missed 15 games injured).
Some characterize me as a Malkin basher. Far from it. But I don’t believe players are ever exactly equal. I also believe that Crosby is better. I also believe that what was a three-horse race between Crosby, Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin for the title of hockey’s best player was reduced to a two-man competition because of Malkin’s slippage this season.
If the Penguins are to keep Sid and Geno indefinitely, Geno has to produce at the same level as Sid. Because if one ever goes, it won’t be Crosby. Crosby is better, he affects the game in more ways than Malkin, and he’s a license to print money.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).