PITTSBURGH - MAY 12:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins moves the puck against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on May 12, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Both inside and outside Pittsburgh, the consensus seems to be that the Penguins could improve their team by trading Evgeni Malkin.

And who knows, maybe they could improve by doing it.  Maybe they could take a leap forward, acquiring two excellent players in exchange.  But the reason most often stated – namely, that Montreal took away the centre ice position and the Penguins need some threats to score on the wing – strikes me as unreasonable.

For starters, nobody has really sold me on the fact that Montreal was able to isolate centre ice.  I’m sure they focused on those players, and those players didn’t have a great series, but to my eye they got their chances.  Tyler Dellow’s busy running a series right now showing Crosby’s chances against the Canadiens, and I’m fairly confident that it will show Crosby getting chances and just not scoring all that often.  Over a seven game series, these things will happen.  And, had guys like Marc-Andre Fleury played a little bit better, Montreal wouldn’t have squeaked out a seven-game win and we wouldn’t be talking about this anyway.

The other thing is that Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last year.  Normally, this sort of thing would represent proof that a team can win with strength down the middle and not much on the wings.  People point to Fedotenko and Ponikarovsky and say this team needs an upgrade on the wings, but last year they could have (and did) say the same things about Sykora, Satan and Dupuis (combined playoff numbers: 40GP – 1G – 6A – 7PTS).  The Penguins’ model this season was the same as the Penguins’ model last season.  Last season it worked, this season it didn’t.  So with a Stanley Cup victory one year in hindsight, I think it’s just a touch idiotic to be going on and on about how the team needs strength on the wings.

Secondly, if the Penguins were to move a centre, that would leave Jordan Staal in the number two spot.  But while Malkin may have had an underwhelming playoffs, Staal was worse.  In fact, of the Penguins top three lines, the only line that got outscored – the only line where all three players had minus ratings – was Staal’s line.  Staal was a minus in the playoffs this year, a minus in the playoffs last year, and a minus in the playoffs the year before that.  We can talk about ice-time and circumstance, and they matter, but Malkin hasn’t been a minus player once in the last three playoff years and has outscored Staal by a 3:1 ratio over that time period.  That’s significant, and there’s a big drop off between a world-class player in Malkin in the #2 slot and a pretty good player in Staal in the #3 slot.

Of course, during the Penguins’ cup run in 2008-09, their best player was Malkin, who out-scored Crosby both en route to the finals and in the last series, against Detroit.  Here’s the stats line from that seven game series against Detroit:

  • Crosby: 7GP – 1G – 2A – 3PTS, –3
  • Malkin: 7GP – 2G – 6A – 8PTS, even

I don’t buy in to using one or two playoff series to define “clutch” because it’s such a short span of time I don’t know how anyone can form big conclusions from it.  But for those people who do believe they can watch one playoff series and pick out “clutch”, Malkin’s numbers are pretty amazing.

The Penguins don’t need to trade Malkin.  In fact, I’d argue that it probably isn’t in their best interest to trade any of their top-three centres – but if they were going to trade one, Jordan Staal would seem to be the logical candidate.  However, they’ve had lots of success using the three men down the middle strategy and picking out reclamation projects for the wings.  It may not have worked this season, but it didn’t miss by much and it worked just fine the year before.

Comments (34)

  1. The SV% behind Staal in the playoffs was 860 (!). It was 915 behind Malkin. That’s all there is to their different minus ratings.

    I personally don’t buy any of the stuff coming out about Malkin being shut-down by special strategies by MTL, but I think he’s more Olli Jokinen than Sidney Crosby. He gets lesser match-ups and some of the most beneficial zone start ratios in the league (not to mention 5 minutes a night on the PP). Staal, on the other hand, starts way more in his own end, sees tougher opposition on average and tends to move the puck north more efficiently.

    If the Penguins decide to trade a center, and I agree that it’s not something they necessarily have to do, I think Malkin would make the most sense to move.

  2. While I think your bang on in your article Jon I will say this. Sherro would be foolish to not at least explore his options. He doesn’t have to trade either Stall or Malkin. But he should as any GM should be open to listening to offers. Certainly I can’t see him trading Malkin unless it’s an offer that blows him away like a 1st round pick, a number two center and a top line winger. Aside from that Malkin won’t be moving anywhere. Stall won’t command as much but Sherro would definetly want a capable 3rd line center and a top six winger in return since stall would be good enough to be a top 2 center on most teams that don’t have Malkin and Crosby. The one big area of concern for the Pens going forward should not be their forwards but their defense. If Gonchar leaves town like many people think he will That will be 3 of the Pens top 4 defense man gone in the last two season. And no offense to guys like Eaton, Goligoski and Letang but they can’t replace what Gonchar, Scuderi and Gil brought to the back end. And I think that’s going to end up costing the Pens if Sherro doesn’t start retooling his back end.

  3. Thomas Kaberle would be a good fit in Pitts.

  4. Malkin is just not that good a 5 on 5 player, it shows rather clearly on the ice.

    Anyways, if I am Shero, I would be shopping Malkin like mad. If I had a straight up deal Malkin for, say, Rick Nash, I would take it in a heartbeat. Ther are just so many good forwards in this league I would take before Malkin.

    Of course if I was Shero I would never have let it come to this. Never would have signed him to the $8.7M deal and probably would have kept Hossa and traded Malkin with all his points and chances given back the other way.

  5. @ Kent Wilson:

    I suppose I really should have checked that.

    The thing with Malkin is that he makes use of those cherry minutes like few others in the league, and he’s been gold on the power play each and every year. Staal’s a good player, but I don’t think he’ll ever score the way Malkin does and Malkin-esque scoring is a rarity.

  6. @ Devon:

    Agreed, there’s no harm in checking options.

    @ R O

    Well, Malkin’s a scorer everywhere but I’ll admit his real value over the last two seasons has been as a power play guy. There are guys I’d trade him for, but I think it’s silly to say the Pens need to deal him.

  7. I agree with you on this one Jonathan but at the same time I think Staal will/ should be moved, I think there are plenty of teams that would trade a defenceman like Gonchar for him aswell as a decent winger/prospect. I still think Burke would be stupid not to atleast offer up Kaberle and some sort of winger package other then Kulemin, although that maybe what it takes.

  8. Well, Malkin’s a scorer everywhere but I’ll admit his real value over the last two seasons has been as a power play guy. There are guys I’d trade him for, but I think it’s silly to say the Pens need to deal him.

    Right but the name of the game is to outscore. Malkin might outdo that by virtue of his soft icetime and elite finishing ability but the fact remains that he’s still giving it back in spades, so he won’t outscore as much, relative to his icetime, as his peers.

    And the way his 5on5 shifts overwhelmingly start in the opposing zone, and end overwhelmingly in his own zone, means that he’s not doing favors for the line that comes after him. There’s no ripple effect (a la Crosby), and in turn there’s less of a ripple effect to him when his shifts start. It’s a vicious cycle.

    I’ll tell you this, Pittsburgh is very fortunate to have Crosby. But the team would be better off if there was another guy who was making a real difference in where the puck is.

    I think as long as Crosby is around the Pens will be a very good team, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be way better off with a real 5on5 outscorer and outchancer in place of #71.

  9. Are we only looking at this season to gauge Malkin’s ability to rip it up at ES?

    2008-2009 (accompanied by team rank)

    ES Qualcomp – 1st among F
    ES Qualteam – T-5th among F
    ES PTS/60 – 3.07 (1st)
    +-ON/60 – +1.22 (3rd among F)

    2007-2008

    ES Qualcomp – 1st among F
    ES Qualteam – 3rd among F
    ES PTS/60 – 3.20 (2nd)
    +-ON/60 – +1.03 (2nd)

    Malkin has faced the tougher competion between the 3 C for 2 of the 3 years. The one year he didn’t was this year where he battled a shoulder injury. He also ripped apart the competition at ES scoring at over 3 ESP/60 and being over +1 GF-GA/60.

    Is he as good as Crosby? Maybe not. Is he one of the 3 best players in the league when healthy? Without adoubt. Dude’s a machine at ES.

  10. Dawgbone:

    Does that mesh with what your eyes see? It doesn’t to me, I’ve seen Malkin play against depth a lot. Even then, he’ll try to force plays and ends up turning over the puck too much (against depth!), and when that happens you don’t see him rushing all the way up ice the way Crosby does.

    And that’s all borne out by the underlying numbers, they all paint a picture of a guy who starts a bunch of his shifts in the offensive zone and ends a bunch of them in the defensive zone. Basically, rich man’s Lecavalier.

    He can finish, and he’ll destroy you if you’re a man down, but at evens it’s not nearly as impressive in context.

  11. I think the logic behind keeping Staal over Malkin is that he’s much better defensively, plays more SH, and has had no real scoring opportunities.

    That’s their big problem. They can’t trade the face of the franchise (and, hell, the face of PIT sports now that Big Ben’s fallen from grace). They can’t trade the guy with the most offensive upside. They can’t trade the best two-way player.

    It’s a tough choice, but I think you have to make it for the long term fiscal health of the club.

    One thing – in spite of one of the best hockey blogs being named as such, I don’t think I want Malkin to the Kings.

  12. It may not have worked this season, but it didn’t miss by much and it worked just fine the year before.

    Exactly. If Fleury doesn’t melt down in Game 7, they become the first team in 25 years to make three straight Finals (because really, does Philly beat Pittsburgh in anyone’s minds, Cinderella magic aside?) and they’re a dynasty in the making.

  13. Does it mesh with how he played this year? Not really, but I’ve already acknowledged that.

    Does it mesh with what I’ve seen over the past 2 playoff years? Absolutely.

    Does he benefit from zonestarts? Absolutely. It’s obviously much easier when you start in the oppositions end about 60% of the time.

    The other thing to consider is that he’s been an absolute beast at drawing penalties. Prior to this year he was near the top of the league in drawing penalties, and near the top of the league in terms of penalty differential (drawn-taken).

    As for being a rich man’s Lecavalier, I don’t see the drawback to it to be honest. The issue with Lecavalier is that there are questions as to whether his offence is worth it… with Malkin there are no questions. When healthy the guy has just murdered the league at rates Lecavalier couldn’t dream of.

  14. Pittsburgh is stacked with centres.
    They “need” to improve the blueline and the wing.
    Does anyone see the Crosby/Malkin marriage lasting much longer? Not to suggest any friction but I don’t see Malkin accepting second fiddle status in Pittsburgh for much longer.
    I think Evgeni would really enjoy Miami beach life.
    Dave Tallon is a smart guy, the Panthers need someone to move tickets; Horton plays wing and Vokoun might be the answer to Pittsburgh’s apparent problems in net (Fleury’s no-trade clause kicks in this season).

  15. Matheson floated Hemsky & Penner for Malkin. I didn’t like it at first but to me, it looks good for both sides. Pitt gets a killer first line, Edm gets the first line centre they need & drafts Hall. Plus Malkin’s only 23.

  16. I thought Stall for Phaneuf (when he was with Calgary) would of been a good trade. to late now though. Pens will be back next year and I do believe that the Pens will make a major trade of some sort at the draft table.

  17. Noskillgill, the cap mess Chicago is in right now points to the fact that Tallon isn’t necessarily that smart of a guy.

  18. Unless they are trading Malkin for Ovechkin, Mike Richards or Stamkos, I don’t really see how getting rid of Malkin helps Pittsburg. Pens have won 8 or their last 10 playoff series, most NHL teams would take that.

  19. the big question is with Gonchar becoming an unrestricted free agent, do you try to resign him or is Letang ready to take over for him?

  20. Gord:

    Letang’s not ready. I don’t think he’s close to being the same defenceman that Gonchar is at this point.

  21. Chicago looks pretty good if you ask me. What’s a legit chance at the cup in back to back seasons worth? I’d say it’s worth having to deal with the cap issues that go with getting to the top of the pile. It’s not like the Hawks are screwed next year either way.

  22. I’m going to talk more about Tallon tomorrow I think. Looking over his free agent signings I get very depressed.

  23. i think malkin is secretly a nazi

  24. IF a trade happens out of Pitts it has to be Staal unless, Malkin can bring in two top 4 d-man and a good winger. Just saying it wouldnt make sense keep two of the best pivots together aslong as possible. I’m not taking anything away from Staal I just think even in the Pitts organization there are players that can step into his role, on any other team Staal would be a decent second line center, and with having said that I think he can bring in a decent D-man and winger combo. I think the Rangers should be interested and try to make a pitch for him, they have a lot of good young dman and a couple wingers that could be moved.

  25. noskillgill, but if it costs them several other chances to get to the cup final, then was it worth it if they don’t win?

    As for them not being screwed next year, that’s a matter of opinion. Kane, Toews and Keith’s new contracts kick in starting next year and they are already at $57 mil with guys like Ladd, Johnsson, Hjalmarsson and Niemi in need of new contracts.

    So they are losing some depth somewhere in their lineup no matter what. It gets even worse in 2011-12 when after signing the guys they need to this year, guys like Byfuglien, Kopecky, and Seabrook need new deals.

    So yeah, I’m not sure what your definition of screwed is, but they’re pretty damn close.

  26. As a Penguins fan, I think I would only be happy with trading Malkin if we got, say, the entire L.A. Kings franchise in return or something. That’s Malkin’s worth to the Penguins in my opinion.

  27. Dawgbone-I don’t disagree that the Hawk’s cap situation is dicey. I’m just taking the position that the value of the Hawks success outweighs the costs of that success. If you want to compare it to a theoretical ideal then who really ever succeeds with that comparison?
    All of the players you named were acquired by Dale Tallon.

  28. Malkin is very similar to Ovechkin in ablility, age, nationality, etc.. How come no one is saying that the Caps need to trade Ovie. Malkin is signed for many many years (more than Crosby), so why even think of trading him. More than likely the Pens will try and trade Kunitz for a Dman or possibly Goligoski. Gonchar is a goner, along with Poni, Feds, Guerin, McKee and probably Eaton, Leopold and Cooke. Besides Cooke, these older players did not provide much in the playoffs and are not worth resigning, unless they want to come back for a pay cut. The Pens are actually in a lot better shape than most playoff teams. Chicago was mentioned, but what about the Caps. They will have to rely on a young golie and a crappy defense. Half their team in FAs. The Caps think they can bring up their young players from Hershey, but who really knows if they can play NHL hockey.

  29. BILLY BOY- comparing Malkin to Ovechkin is preposterous. These guys aren’t even in the same category of players… it’s a bit like comparing Kunitz with say, Rick Nash. Ovechkin is responsible for other players on his team having career years after career years, while Malkin is having careers years because of Crosby. Slight difference there.

  30. It doesn’t outweigh the cost though.

    It could be the difference between a single finals appearance and several when all is said and done. The Hawks aren’t good because of Toews or Kane or Seabrook alone, the Hawks are good because they have a whack load of good players all throughout their team. Acquiring the talent wasn’t the issue, the issue was some of the horrible mistakes made that will end up hurting this team in the long run.

    Forgetting to put Q.O.’s in on players like Versteeg and Barker is a huge issue. Signing Huet to a big money deal. Signing Brian Campbell to be the 4th highest paid defenceman in the league….

    All of these moves are going to force the Hawks to give up on the depth that has made them such a good team. A handful of smarter decisions over the past 2 years and instead of losing maybe 5 or 6 players they only lose 2 or 3.

  31. Forgetting to put the QO’s in…do you know what happened there? I seem to recall hearing that there was more to that than was commonly reported. As for what might happen in the future, tomorrow is promised to no one.
    I think Malkin is quite close to Ovechkin in talent, who knows what he could do if he had an entire system designed for his benefit.

  32. It really doesn’t matter what the story was, fact of the matter is he screwed it up, badly.

    And just because tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone doesn’t mean you can’t plan accordingly for it.

    There’s simply no way the Hawks can keep their team in tact for next season, and that is an issue brought on by bad decisions by Tallon.

  33. I am a penguins fan but I dont have my head in my ass. Crosby is our guy. In my mind staal is more useful yet geno is a quaterback. Gonch is gone, its unfortunate but the way he played this year was not worth the 5 he wants for the next 3 years. Our powerplay needs geno now more than ever. Honestly crosby could make 10 or more anywhere. So geno making close to 9 is fucked. He deserves 9 maybe 42 games a year but when it counts sorry buddy. Not this year. I think its coaching. Bring geno up with sid or staalzy up with geno or sid. If you are paying for it make it a machine. But no team can win with one line. So move him or not? I say no. Not yet. Give him a shot. He can take over any game on any night. Now if you get rid of him who for? No picks no prospects headlining the deal. Its a top 4 dman, and a good winger. Plus a pick or 2 and a prospect. Now top for dman, you cant afford a 5 million dollar dman. And if so it better be a mid 20s d man with puck moving talent. Name one? A good winger.. 3million maybe. Lets get real a solid scoring winger at 3 mill for sid to play with. That guy makes everyone good but he needs reliablility, talent and he needs to know he is there for support and to win. Not be there for a year and want mega money somewhere else. Name one? So what makes sense? I say keep him. Im a pens fan and I will be upset if he leaves but I will get over it. I want geno to stay. He is a top 10 player in the world but I will be happy if ray shero makes it work. Honestly this decision is marios. He likes him. He is similar to how he played. now if so, our prospects now. Eric tangradi, to play with kennedy and maybe cooke if we sign him. I like him, who wouldnt a power forward. Other than that we re done. The 20th overall pick, a good player but its a forward. Simon despres our first rounder from last year. Big puck moving dman, probably 2 years away. One problem solved maybe. This year who knows. I dont know guys. Lets just keep him. Or not. Im as lost as eveyone else is.

  34. one more question, how much do you think patrick sharp will make next year? Unrelated but i was interested.

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