In an offseason where players we thought would never change sweaters did, it’s a bit odd to think that Penguins’ fans may need to consider what could happen with forward Evgeni Malkin. The NHL star is only under contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins for 18 more months and long before those 18 months come and go, the Penguins are going to need to decide what to do with his contract. Knowing that he’s aging, the team might be rebuilding and he’s not going to come cheap if he’s re-signed, extending him isn’t exactly an easy decision.
Malkin will be 36 at the time of his next deal and likely still productive. That said, he’s not at the point in his NHL career where he’s about to start signing one-year contracts a la Joe Thornton or Jason Spezza. When his contract comes due, Malkin told The Athletic’s Rob Rossi that he envisioned signing a three year contract extension. That would mean the Penguins are counting on him being productive up to the age of 39. That could be a tall ask, but it’s not just the term of the deal that could be worrisome.
Malkin’s current $9.5 million cap hit sees him tied for 12th in the NHL among forwards. That deal today isn’t a total bargain, but it is fair. That said, this deal and his next are two very different things.
The closest comparable to what his next deal might look like is whatever Alex Ovechkin’s new deal is when he re-signs Washington Capitals. Speculation is that he’ll be in the ballpark of $10 million per season for anywhere between three and five seasons. Is Malkin worth that? There are a few things to consider in order to answer that question.
The Arguments For Re-Signing Malkin
Some will say that allowing Malkin (or for that matter Malkin and Sidney Crosby) to retire in a sweater that doesn’t have a Penguins logo on it is nuts. They’ll suggest that reason alone warrants the $10 million per season required to keep him, especially since the Penguins should have the cap room.
And, depending on what happens with the NHL and as the pause in play grows, some clubs may be worried about losing loyal fans. It’s not clear if the Penguins are among that group, but giving fans any reason to no longer support the team (moving Malkin would upset plenty of the fanbase) means a potentially huge loss in ticket and merchandise sales when things get back to normal.
Further to that, Malkin, if healthy, should produce. He may not do so at a $10 million level, but the first year of that deal, if not the first two should be fine.
The Arguments Against Re-Signing Malkin
The Penguins are not going to be Stanley Cup contending team if they keep aging veterans on at high prices for nostalgia reasons. A club that might be forced to rebuild if their window to win closes, committing big money to Malkin and/or Crosby at a time the Penguins will be less competitive seems like an odd choice.
This is especially true if salary caps don’t balloon again in the NHL in the next two or three seasons. Should issues continue between the NHL and the NHLPA when it comes to salary deferrals, any refusal by the players to defer more money this offseason likely extends the length the time the cap remains flat in future offseasons. Every penny will count if that situation plays itself out and $10 million for Malkin at his age for more multiple years feels a tad more risky.
At some point, the Penguins may be forced to embrace a full rebuild. If so, should the Penguins sign Malkin and Crosby to high-priced contracts, that team will look at lot like the Chicago Blackhawks who are facing a massive dilemma with their core veterans. They’ll have players like Bryan Rust and Kasperi Kapanen who also need new deals and the Penguins may have to choose between one or the other.
Finally, if the Penguins have to make sacrifices to keep a player like Malkin around, is it really logical to assume that Crosby and/or Malkin will want to spend their final seasons on a team that may not be a playoff club? And, if not, will the Penguins be able to trade Malkin at the age of 38 and making $10 million?
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