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Evgeni Malkin has played nearly 1,000 regular-season games and another 177 in the playoffs while establishing himself as one of the most prolific players in recent history.
Three Stanley Cups, two scoring titles, a most valuable player award and better than 500 goals and 1,300 points (playoffs included) are ample evidence of his NHL prowess.
But all good things come to an end. Maybe.
Malkin will be 36 when the 2022-23 season begins and he’s surely feeling the sting of a first-round loss to the New York Rangers as he heads toward summer in the final days of a contract. And it’s not beyond reason that team executives Ron Hextall and Brian Burke decide it’s not cost-effective to retain the services of a balky-kneed forward who’s going to demand a significant chunk of the salary allotment.
Will the Penguins pony up the cash necessary to keep him?
Would he actually consider playing somewhere else for the right price?
The B/R hockey team considered those questions and others on the way to compiling a list of the top landing spots for a sure-fire Hall of Famer who’ll be a free agent as of July 1.
Scroll through to take a look at what we came up with and leave us a viewpoint or two of your own in the comments.
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The New Jersey Devils are not the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They’ve made the playoffs just once in the last 10 seasons and haven’t won a postseason series since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings in 2012.
So if Malkin is looking to continue to contend for championships next season, heading to the swamps of Jersey probably won’t get him there. But the Devils are flush with cash—they have more than $25 million in salary-cap room heading into 2022-23—and they’re not averse to making big moves.
New Jersey signed big-ticket defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year, $63 million deal last summer and has a fleet of young, skilled forwards. Malkin could mentor them while helping the Devils compete with some aging rivals in the Metropolitan Division.
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The New York Islanders are in an interesting situation.
They advanced to the postseason final four in two straight springs before moving into a new building last fall and falling flat when it came to the playoff chase in 2021-22. The misfire led to the surprise firing of coach Barry Trotz after the season, and it’ll be interesting to see how GM Lou Lamoriello moves forward.
He can usually be counted on to take the unexpected or highest-profile option, and what could qualify more so than offering Malkin a boatload of cash to move to a division rival?
Hockey-wise, a healthy version of the 6’3″, 195-pound Russian is a valuable asset on the ice, and it’d be a boon to the team’s anemic offense (tied for 22nd in goals per game) to slide him in behind Mathew Barzal as the second-line option at center.
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Boston is just under 600 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
But when it comes to their NHL teams, they are similar places these days.
Both the Bruins And Penguins were beaten in a seven-game series and look toward the offseason with decisions to make about myriad veterans that have made up their long-term cores.
Malkin could indeed be on the move for that reason, and he could find himself in a place like Boston if the Bruins’ brass decides the team is still close to championship contention.
Boston captain Patrice Bergeron has been with the team for 18 seasons and, like Malkin, is facing free agency as the eight-year extension he signed in 2013 comes to an end.
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Somewhere near the intersection of future promise and current contention, there’s Anaheim.
The Ducks were among the Pacific Division leaders for the first half of the season before a swoon, and their roster is comprised of some of the youngest and most exciting talent in the league.
And if you look outside in January, let’s just say you’ll know it’s not Pittsburgh.
If Malkin wants to take his talents to a California beach with an eye on playing an exciting brand of hockey with an up-and-coming team, the home of Disney West could be the place.
It’d be quite the sight to see him amid a group of 20-somethings like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry, and the surroundings could inspire a 36-year-old version to repeat some of his 26-year-old feats.
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Unless you’re a strongly partisan fan elsewhere, it’s hard not to pity the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The team plays in a hockey-mad city that has not seen a championship in more than a half-century and hasn’t celebrated a playoff series win in nearly 20 years. But the 2021-22 squad, complete with MVP favorite Auston Matthews, seemed like the unit that could finally get over the hump to legitimate contention.
Instead, the Leafs drew the two-time defending champions in the first round and proceeded to lose Game 6 in overtime after leading in the third period and then fell in Game 7 on home ice before 19,316 shocked fans.
So if any team might scan the horizon for productive players with proven postseason pedigree simply to provide a mojo change in the locker room, it’s the Maple Leafs.
And if any potentially available player fits that description, it’s Malkin.
There’s likely to be some level of wholesale change in southern Ontario regardless, but it would be interesting to see the big Russian bring his three-cup mettle to the league’s most tortured fanbase.
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Here’s some truth.
The mere image of Malkin playing anywhere but Pittsburgh is almost impossible to conjure.
He’s one of the undisputed faces of the organization, and his No. 71 sweater is conspicuous throughout the Steel City in schools, libraries, restaurants and shopping malls.
And though he’s unlikely to accept the league’s equivalent of minimum wage to continue playing in his adopted home, there’s a good chance he won’t be a guy issuing financial ultimatums either.
He turned on the charm a few months back with a suggestion that cash wasn’t his primary motivation while rehabbing from offseason knee surgery.
“I’m not thinking about my contract; I’m not thinking about money,” he said. “I’m a pretty rich guy.”
And it’s not as if the Penguins’ title-contention window was slammed shut on the ice.
They led the New York Rangers in their first-round series before a hard hit on Crosby put him out of the remainder of Game 5 and made him unavailable for Game 6. He returned for Game 7, and the Penguins were up a goal heading into the final period before ultimately losing in overtime.
So if Hextall and Burke decide to take one more bite at the apple with Nos. 87 and 71 leading the charge, it wouldn’t be the worst competitive decision ever made.
It’s all Malkin has known since he was drafted as a teenager 18 years ago, and it’d be difficult to imagine him walking away unless the guys in the corner offices simply decide he’s no longer needed.