[UPDATE: Malkin has signed a four-year, $24.4 million extension to stay in Pittsburgh.]
After Kris Letang signed for less money (but more term) than many expected, it opened up room for the Penguins to re-sign Evgeni Malkin — theoretically. You know, if they chose to. Perhaps the Penguins didn’t make enough of an overture to Evgeni Malkin, as Darren Dreger reports that the veteran star decided to become a free agent (“go to the open market”).
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun ranks among those who back up Dreger’s report.
First things first: note that this is a report. If anything official comes from the Penguins or Evgeni Malkin, it hasn’t been released yet.
It’s also important to note that 2022 NHL Free Agency opens up on Wednesday. Perhaps there’s the smallest chance that this announcement — or maybe negative responses from Penguins fans — could actually prompt a late deal with Malkin?
Maybe. But at the moment, it sounds like Malkin could become a free agent. He’d do so for the first time in his career, just weeks before he turns 36 (on July 31).
Pondering (seemingly failed) Malkin – Penguins contract talks
Again, there’s the outside chance that something might change.
Either way, it’s also worth noting how tense this situation became.
After Letang signed, the questions changed from “Could the Penguins re-sign Evgeni Malkin?” to “Do they want to?” There may have even been some heartbreaking texts about Malkin wondering if the Penguins thought he was “good” anymore.
This could be the sort of decision that echoes through fan lore.
12M combined cap hit for Malkin AND Letang just sitting right there…
What more do you want as this era comes to the final stanza of being competitive?
— Ryan Wilson (@GunnerStaal) July 11, 2022
For all we know, the difference between Malkin sticking with the Penguins or becoming a free agent may have boiled down to Malkin wanting four years versus Pittsburgh standing firm at three.
But we may not ever know for sure where things truly broke down. If Malkin does indeed walk to become a free agent, and there’s no change of heart, then we’ll know what it’s like to see the future Hall of Famer wearing something other than a Penguins uniform.
[NHL free agency tracker 2022: Full list of offseason signings]
Malkin would make the NHL free agent market fascinating; Penguins’ path unclear
With Valeri Nichushkin off the NHL free agent market, perhaps the universe returned some entertainment value?
No doubt about it, Malkin is a huge name. Teams will face a tug-o-war between what Malkin can accomplish in 2022-23 and what Malkin’s accomplished as someone who should’ve been named as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.
There’s the question of his value. There’s the nagging question of how often he can even get on the ice.
Malkin hasn't played a full 82 game season since he was 22. Averages ~60 games a season. Very curious where the 35 yo ends up and what he gets! https://t.co/6SuXf9Y9hj
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) July 11, 2022
On first impact, it’s hard to fathom Evolving Hockey’s contract projection or a one-year, near-$3 million cap hit for Malkin coming true. You’d think his big name would command bigger dollars? The term he craves? Both?
Malkin is still extremely good, but there is *a lot* of downside on a deal (and this doesn’t even include his health issues)
but still — it’s malkin :((((( pic.twitter.com/9e3wuhK5dw
— dom (@domluszczyszyn) July 11, 2022
Then again, ponder if Malkin wants to chase another Stanley Cup above all else. The possibilities become dizzying.
Just imagine the sheer spite of Malkin possibly signing with an immediate rival like (gasp) the Flyers.
[Top NHL Free Agent Storylines]
Naturally, there’s also the question of what’s next for the Penguins in free agency.
Via Cap Friendly, the Penguins have about $15.3M in salary cap space. After signing Letang and Bryan Rust, you’d think the Penguins want to be aggressive in the free agent market.
But will they find a better value than Malkin? The pressure would be on, because this would be a bitter pill for fans to swallow.
I get the concerns with Malkin (age, knees) but he is still better than any realistic option they are looking at on the open market. And if we are being honest, probably cheaper, too.
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) July 11, 2022
From a selfish blogging standpoint, this is an absolutely fascinating scenario. Assuming, of course, that Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins don’t hash things out after all, and he indeed becomes a free agent.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.