‘I hope I see you subsequent yr’ – Evgeni Malkin needs to stick with Penguins, understands scenario

To begin his Pittsburgh Penguins career, Evgeni Malkin had to sneak off from his Russian pro team and hide out for days in a Finnish apartment until the American consulate could fast-track a visa that would allow him escape the obligations of a contract signed under duress.

Ending his Penguins’ career won’t be as difficult. Even if the emotions involved do carry some slight similarities.

“Pittsburgh is my second hometown,” Malkin, a pending unrestricted free agent, said Tuesday. “I’m here 16 years, it’s amazing. It’s hard to like understand what’s going on right now. I mean, we just (had a season-ending loss) a couple days ago. It’s still (fresh).”

But two days after the Penguins lost an overtime Game 7 of their first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers, all anyone wanted to talk about Malkin is whether he would be returning to the Penguins in 2022-23 for a 17th season. Finishing the final season of an eight-year contract that paid him an average of $9.5 million per year, Malkin will turn 36 in July — the same month in which he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

That is, of course, unless an 11th — -hour extension is agreed to and signed before then between him and the Penguins.

“I hope we find a way to make both (parties) happy,” Malkin said. “I believe it’s amazing to play 20 years, 19 or whatever with one club. That’s amazing.

“It’s all business. I’m (prepared) to go away. If I stay, I’m so much happy. But if not, I’ll move my family to other city and hope I can play my best hockey.”

Though he missed exactly half of the regular season mostly because of offseason knee surgery, Malkin produced at a 40-goal pace in 2021-22 with 20 tallies in 41 games. He added three more in the Penguins’ playoff series, and the success of the Penguins’ power play in particular seemed to correlate with Malkin’s availability all season long.

His days as an NHL MVP or scoring champion are almost assuredly over, but even in his mid-30s, Malkin remains a productive center.

“I believe I’m still a good player,” Malkin said while speaking to reporters at UPMC Lemux Sports Complex in Cranberry, “and good players sign good contracts.”

Malkin cracked jokes with media before, during and after a 6-minute question-and-answer session Tuesday that was only his second such availability since late-February. He repeatedly expressed love for Pittsburgh and the Penguins organization, which he helped to three Stanley Cup championships. Malkin also stumped for the return of other pending free agents such as right wing Bryan Rust.

Forever linked with fellow franchise icons Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, Malkin joked how each is his “brother: one Canadian, one French-Canadian.” The three of them have been together longer than any set of three teammates in NHL history.

“I love them both,” Malkin said.

But throughout all the lighthearted, upbeat and nostalgic talk, Malkin also made it clear he was accepting that his tenure with the only NHL team he has known might end in a matter of weeks.

“I understand it’s a business,” Malkin said. “I obviously love these fans so much, but I know (if the) team wants new blood like young guys and (would) like saying to me, ‘You should move on,’ I’m fine.”

Malkin joked earlier this season that he’s “rich,” saying money wouldn’t necessarily guide his decision. He reiterated that Tuesday and referenced playing “three or four more years.” Malkin was asked Tuesday if the monetary value of a contract offer was more a sign of respect.

“I knew my price, and my agent knew my price and I think the team knew my price,” Malkin said. “We see what’s going on, so hopefully we will sign a good deal.”

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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