Darren Dreger: Penguins might want to trade Malkin instead of Staal if necessary

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Depending on plenty of factors – especially a new CBA and all that entails – the Pittsburgh Penguins’ much-touted center trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal might just become a dynamic duo. So which one would you let go if you had to decide as their contracts are set to expire (Crosby and Staal’s in 2013, Malkin’s in 2014)?

Plenty of people will add their two cents on this subject, but few carry the weight of TSN’s Darren Dreger, who thought long and hard about pegging Malkin instead of Staal in this radio interview. After complimenting Malkin’s regular season dominance, he wasn’t so sure about how he played against the Philadelphia Flyers in round one.

“For the most part, he wasn’t engaged; he wasn’t invested,” Dreger said. “[Which] Evgeni Malkin are you getting?”

For what it’s worth, here are the three centers full stats from the series:

Staal: six goals, three assists for nine points, +2, 49.5 percent on faceoffs
Malkin: three goals, five assists for eight points, -1, 52.7 percent on faceoffs
Crosby: three goals, five assists for eight points, -3, 54.8 percent on faceoffs

Perhaps Geno had an off game or three, but his stats are remarkably similar to the two other star centers who seemed to mostly get praise or neutral reviews. We can agree to disagree, but I’d say that it’s probably safer to judge Malkin on his all-world-Crosby-included 2011-12 regular season rather than his still pretty decent series. (Which, by the way, was wacky enough to be pretty unreliable from an “assessment” standpoint.)

Get rid of bad contracts instead

The radio interview also features a bit that hopefully will come to GM Ray Shero’s mind well before he considers trading franchise cornerstones: the Penguins basically have $9 million in poorly spent cap room invested in struggling defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. There will also be plenty of players who will come off the cap.

The Penguins can’t bury Martin’s regrettable deal in the minors thanks to his no-movement clause (thanks to Nick Case), but perhaps they can rid themselves of his deal or Michalek’s if the league provides an “amnesty” window after the next CBA goes through. Even if that doesn’t happen, they’ll likely get a chance to trade away cap fat instead of breaking up their core.

After all, if you can trade Scott Gomez and Brian Campbell’s contracts, chances are you can fit Staal, Malkin and Crosby under the same cap ceiling.

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That being said, let me ask: if you had to get rid of one of the three – with all things considered – who would you let go? (I’d vote for Staal.)