However Evgeni Malkin feels about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to trade James Neal, it sounds like he didn’t have a say in it.
In fact, he was just as surprised as the rest of the hockey world when the Pens sent his best friend to Nashville for a package that included Patric Hornqvist. The 28-year-old told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “I was surprised my buddy Nealer was traded.”
“They did not talk to me (about the trade),” Malkin said. “I read about it in the paper. Nealer texted me the whole summer that he didn’t know what was going on or why he was traded. But it’s a new GM. It’s his job. He never asked me.”
Obviously, GM Jim Rutherford is in no way required to run a trade by players, even ones as crucial and talented as Malkin. That said, if Neal resumes his work as one of the leading power forwards in the NHL while Hornqvist struggles and the Penguins sputter, hindsight will not smile upon Rutherford’s bold move. The mixed reaction for Malkin likely won’t help matters, either.
After all, Malkin won his lone Hart Trophy running roughshod over the NHL alongside Neal in 2011-12, scoring 50 goals and 109 points in 75 games. Combine that production with their personal connection and it’s understandable that “Geno” was displeased with the swap.
On the bright side, Malkin’s first impression with new head coach Mike Johnston seems far more positive. The Penguins star said he was surprised that Johnston visited him in Russia, and it certainly sounds like it was a deft move.
Really, if a player can only enjoy strong communication with a head coach or a general manager, being closer with the bench boss is likely the best choice, right? Maybe?