Tuesdays With Stoosh: 1.18

 
Thoughts while ANGRY CROSBY thinks of 1001 more ways to tell the NHL and its All-Star Game to eff off…
 
 
IN WHICH WE SUMMARIZE THE “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH GENO” DEBATE
 
 
 
NO, SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?
 
A brief history, if you will…
 
In 2007-08, Evgeni Malkin finished the season second in the league in scoring with 106 points.
 
In 2008-09, Malkin won the Art Ross as the league’s leading scorer with 113 points. Then for shits and giggles, he led the playoffs in scoring with 36 points in 24 games, made Joe Corvo cry, picked up the Conn Smythe and then got to cart this thing called the Stanley Cup around Detroit ice.
 
Heading into 2009-10, Malkin forced his way into the “Best Player in the League” discussions alongside Crosby and Ovechkin. He was taking over the hockey world and possibly not just stopping there. Geno as Mayor of Pittsburgh? Why the hell not? 
 
But the 2009-10 season had other ideas. Malkin missed 15 games with injury and his point totals suffered – 77 points in 67 games. He just looked “off” or inconsistent the whole season. Maybe it was the injuries. He wasn’t the only player who struggled, so maybe it was Cup hangover. Or maybe it was the simple fact that he, like many of his teammates, had played a hell of a lot of hockey over three years when you added up playoff runs and Olympic games.
 
Pens fans are now watching Malkin go through the same struggles with his game that he did last season. His 36 points in 41 games place him third on the team, but he’s fallen to 44th in the league in scoring. The worst thing is that no one seems to have a definite answer to his struggles. 
 
Is he not a good fit for the system? 
 
Is he not a good fit with some of his linemates? Vice versa? 
 
Is he hurt?
 
Is he drunk? 
 
No one really knows.
 
Outside of maybe CrosbyConcussionGate, Malkin’s Slump has become the most dominant story hovering over the team right now. With Crosby out of the lineup, the team and the fans are looking to Malkin to be the primary catalyst for the offense, as they should. He’s done it before; in fact, it was Crosby’s missed time in 2007-08 to a high ankle sprain that propelled Malkin into Beast Mode and he never really came down from that until last year.
 
Maybe it’s the uncertainty over exactly when Crosby will return combined with the lack of scoring depth on the wings that has ratcheted up the sense of frustration the fans and media feel regarding Malkin’s game. Whatever it is, it has the media and fans frustrated to the point that it has raised some questions. Which is real Malkin?  The 2007-09 Malkin that interjected himself into the “best player in the world” discussions?  Is it the one we’ve seen the last year and a half – the one who is still a top 30 scorer but not much more?  And if the latter is true, then do the Pens consider…um, trading Malkin?
 
Let’s keep something in mind here first.
 
Heading into tonight’s games, the Pens are still 4th in the East, just three points back of the Flyers for the top spot, and one of just five teams in the league with at least 60 points. The Pens are in terrific shape, this despite Malkin not performing to his previous production and Jordan Staal being entirely out of the lineup. So maybe there’s a little bit of “imagine what this team would be doing with Malkin going like he did in 08-09” going on here. But even if he was playing at that level and the Pens were lapping most of the division by now, look what great regular seasons have done for the Caps and Sharks the last couple of years. All that really matters is that the Pens finish in the top eight and that as many key players as possible are healthy come mid-April.
 
Back to Geno.
 
God forbid I sound like one of those scourge-of-the-earth Malkin apologists, but it’s not like he’s not trying, at least in terms of getting the puck to the net. His 176 shots on net place him ninth in the league in that category. So it’s not like he’s not generating shots on net. The quality of those shots may be part of the issue, but the mindset is there.
 
Is it the linemates?
 
It COULD be. In 07-08 and 08-09, Malkin was usually paired with Ryan Malone and/or Petr Sykora – two guys who each average 25 goals per season for their careers. This year, he’s spent a significant amount of even-strength time with Matt Cooke and Max Talbot, each of whom average about 10-15 goals a year for their careers. That’s bound to have SOME impact.
 
 
What a site that is, by the way.
 
Is he hurt? Who knows? He battled the knee issue earlier this year and there’s some speculation out there that says he’s still not 100%. Rob Rossi has mentioned it on Mark Madden’s show in their many discussions of Malkin.  Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers blog says it very well may be the case here
 
If that’s the case, it could be a reason. Plenty of players have tried to play through pain and have at least seen their performances affected by it. It’s even happened with Crosby in the past. At the very least, it’s something the team is aware of and is likely monitoring. 
 
 
YEAH, WHATEVER. WHEN ARE WE TRADING GENO FOR RICK NASH?
 
So let’s get this out of the way.
 
Malkin’s chances of being traded this season rest somewhere between very slim and none.  Yes, there are teams that probably can make the deal.  Yes, there are teams that probably would make the deal. Malkin’s recent struggles aside, just about any other team in the league would kill to add a player of his talent.  Those memories of what he was just 18 months ago are still too fresh.
 
 
Ray Shero said this:

Take Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who was Shero's assistant GM from 2006 to '09.

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"When Chuck goes to Minnesota, they have players, but they ain't these guys. It's not close," Shero said. "It's a lot more difficult for Chuck, that's for sure. Whenever Chuck calls and says, 'What are you up to,' I say, 'Chuck, I can't give you Crosby or Malkin, that's all I can tell ya.'"
 

That last sentence tells you all you really need to know about where Shero’s mindset is on the future of Evgeni Malkin in a Pens sweater.
 
It may happen down the road, perhaps as early as next season…MAYBE even this coming summer. It all depends on Shero and how he and management decide they want to allocate the salary cap space relative to the performance and makeup of the team. There are so many factors at play, you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what Shero should do.
 
So here’s a thought.  
 
Let Shero worry about that. That’s his job and he’s proven to be pretty damned competent at it to this point.
 
Yes, it’s fun to debate and discuss and bullshit about different scenarios. In part, that’s what fans like to do.
 
But this has turned into a circus over the last few weeks – one over which the fans have absolutely no control and little to no inside information on which to comment. 
 
The truth is that paying too much attention to the circus sideshow that has become the Great Malkin Debate has a lot of fans missing the main attraction.  You’ve got a bonafide Cup contender to cheer for.
 
 
ONE LAST POINT
 
Beware the rumor-monger, my son.
 
Over the weekend, some joke who wasn’t even believable enough to write for TIOPS and tweets as “@NHLSourcesSay” mentioned rumblings of a deal out of Calgary that would send Jarome Iginla and Robyn Regehr to the Pens for Malkin. The rumor of course spread like wildfire around the net because that’s what rumors do – there’s a reason why TSN devotes an entire day’s worth of coverage to Trade Deadline Day. Fans tend to love this shit.
 
But a rumor like this in particular only comes from someone who is 1) a Calgary Flames fan, 2) dicking around with the “Trade Negotiations” feature on NHL ’11, or 3) both.
 
And that’s not a swipe at Calgary fans. The Flames are great, going back to Lanny McDonald’s walrus-stache and the days when the legend of Gary Roberts was just a few chapters old.  And that is a kickass logo that the Flames have.
 
But think a little bit when you see crap like this rumor.  
 
The cap numbers don’t work.  Iginla and Regehr are both signed through the next two seasons at a total of about $11 million in cap space. Moving Malkin only takes $8.7 million of that out of the equation, not enough to keep them under the cap. 
 
And as the rumor is written, the Pens have no use for Regehr. He’d be on the third pairing here, and there’s no way Shero is tying up $4 million a year for third-pairing defenseman. That’s a move Glen Sather makes, not Shero. Shero already gets Goligoski, Lovejoy and Engelland for less than that combined.
 
And what about Ray Shero would lead anyone to believe that he’s even considering making a deal like that?  
 
Shero has proven many things since he took over for Craig Patrick in May of 2006. One of them is that he doesn’t seem to be a general manager who is interested in veteran players on high-dollar deals approaching the back end of their careers. 
 
Shero has made a concerted effort to lock up a core that is decidedly young, often allowing accomplished veteran players to go by the wayside in order to make it happen (see Scuderi, Rob; Gill, Hal, Gonchar, Sergei). This is a general manager who waited until the eleventh hour to bring Bill Guerin back last season, and that was under a one-year deal for a very known commodity.  Iginla is 33 (turns 34 in July).  He’s signed for each of the next two years at a cap hit of $7 million per year and Shero has no idea whether Iginla would be a fit with Crosby in this system.
 
Jobbers like “@NHLSourcesSay” are going to be all over the place over the next six weeks with this kind of stuff. The NHL’s trade deadline is Feb. 28, so you know that it’s coming. Consider your sources. If you don’t see it from TSN, CBC or John Buccigross, chances are it’s probably not legitimate.
 
 
OK, ONE LAST THING, FOR REAL THIS TIME
 
This never gets old.
 

 
 
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