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Sometimes it’s nice to get a bit of respite from digging through the minutiae of playoff matchups, so you can talk about something that is very black-and-white.
The Penguins lost in the playoffs in disappointing fashion again, so that means it’s time for yet another round of, “You Gotta Trade Malkin.” How comforting to get a take so bad and yet so familiar, like a dozen seasons’ worth of “Tuukka Rask can’t get the job done” takes all at once.
It’s being reported by. multiple. outlets in the greater Pittsburgh area that the Penguins are at least considering a big shakeup that could potentially see them ship out one of the team’s big stars. That could include Kris Letang. It could include Phil Kessel. It could include, of course, Evgeni Malkin.
There’s nothing to interpret here. Nothing to really think about beyond how idiotic that would be. But because the Penguins went out in Round 1, in a rather embarrassing sweep, and because Malkin is unapologetically who he is, and because Malkin is the Eastern European Other who has always played second fiddle to a Good Canadian Boy, and because he would still have a ton of theoretical value, this is apparently something we have to talk about.
You hate to breathe life into the argument that a trade should or even could be made. Malkin has a full no-move and would therefore need to permit the Penguins to trade him, which one expects he is loath to do. But more to the point, the issues mentioned in both the Athletic and the Tribune-Review revolved around Malkin’s minus-25 season, his defensive indifference, his declining production, his inability to stay available.
I would say only one of those — Malkin has just one season with more than 70 games played since the lockout season six years ago — is a legitimate point of concern. That’s especially true because Malkin is also pushing 33 and therefore not likely to keep producing at the same rate or suddenly start being healthier for much longer.
Of course the plus-minus thing is the kind of stat morons trot out while they still say, “it’s an imperfect stat, but…” and such is the case here. Yes, Malkin was a minus-25 this season but his on-ice save percentage at 5-on-5 was .891. Even if you think it was because he turned the puck over too often, which he probably did (even as turnovers is also an incredibly silly stat to cite in this league), if you’re putting that .891 on him, maybe reevaluate how you see the sport. Same, too, goes for his on-ice shooting percentage (9 percent) being the lowest it’s been since 2015-16 and well below his all-time average of 10.2 percent.
Malkin, limited by mediocre-for-him play and injuries once again, still put up 72 points in 68 games. That’s a higher points per game than Sebastian Aho, Claude Giroux, and Gabriel Landeskog, Jack Eichel, and so on. So if that’s what you’re doing in a down year at 32, I don’t see a ton to worry about. But everyone knows that, and even if the Penguins ultimately arrive at the decision to swap out one of the team’s big stars, everyone also knows Malkin shouldn’t be the guy.
You don’t need to go through a big analytics-y song and dance over why such a trade would be silly. Hell, even the reportage on this acknowledges that problem with the no-move, the fact that he’s a high-paid over-30 player who would command relatively little return, and the fact that there’s probably not a lot of tread on the tire for the Pens to be competitive again even if they were to get something at least comparable back.
When great players get traded in this league, it’s always always always for less value by volume. This, too, is something everyone knows, which is what makes the idea ridiculous on its face. If you’re trading Malkin, you might as well trade Kessel, Letang, and hell, even Crosby. Because when he’s actually playing and getting help from his wings, Malkin is always going to be a weapon even if his on-ice shooting percentage doesn’t recover a bit, you’re not getting back guys who move the needle like he does.
Generally speaking, I’m in favor of moving on from even really good players when they’re 31, 32, 33 years old. But Malkin isn’t just a really good player. He’s still pretty close to elite. Rutherford himself acknowledges this. Are there things you’d like to see improve that maybe won’t? Sure. But the number of things that would have to go exactly right for this team to not-screw-up a Malkin trade is rather high.
But when it comes to the Pens getting worked in the postseason, the answer could never ever be the overpaid role players who actively drag the team into a summer of looking into the void. On the contrary, it’s always the guy who scored a ton but juuuuust barely not enough to get them where they could have gone if only he’d scored 1.07 points per game instead of 1.06.
It really is reassuring that even after all this time, the Pittsburgh media’s still got it! You have to know when to play the hits.