3 Teams to Watch Should the Penguins Walk Away From Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin wants to accomplish a rare feat we don’t often see now a days in sports, spend an entire career with one franchise. Whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins are willing to compromise enough to make Malkin’s dream a reality is the hard part, which may shatter the hearts of many. Malkin, as he’s shown with his blood, sweat and tears throughout his 981-game career, leaves it all on the line for the city of Pittsburgh. He reiterated his love for the franchise throughout the early parts of his offseason, and it’s evident coming back is priority. Now everyone continues to hurry up and wait.

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While it would be awfully weird to see the Penguins legend playing for another franchise, that’s the harsh reality of professional sports when the business side gets in the way. Malkin isn’t going to accept much less than market value as he still holds himself among the game’s best:

Matching the current $9.5 million annually he makes won’t be in the cards for Penguins general manager Ron Hextall, and on the flip side I’d be surprised if Malkin accepts anything under $7 million, even with how much he wants to keep playing with his best buddy Sidney Crosby. Good player, good contract.

So where is the common ground and what average annual value will keep both sides happy enough to sign on the dotted line? Hard to say at this point, but if the Penguins play a hard bargain, Malkin could very well find himself in some unfamiliar territory of having options to choose from. If the unthinkable happens and ‘Geno’ leaves Pittsburgh, some potential destinations which come to mind include:

Carolina Hurricanes

Malkin playing in a red jersey wouldn’t be that weird of a site considering his time playing internationally with Team Russia. The Carolina Hurricanes are one team who could use another star forward who has the ability to take over games. The ‘Canes have $19.3 million in cap space to work this summer, so there’s certainly some room to get creative if the option presented itself.

Evgeni Malkin has recorded 180 points in 177 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (Tom Turk/THW)

The Hurricanes could use some more fire power up front, there’s no doubt about that. They have a few of free agents in Vincent Trocheck, Max Domi and Nino Niederreiter who are all in need of contract extensions, so internal business is on the horizon as well. It will be curious to see how everything shakes out in Carolina as perhaps they’d consider a much different direction if given the chance.

Related: Penguins Have 7 Interesting Options Should Kris Letang Leave Pittsburgh

Malkin’s chances of staying in Pittsburgh are extremely high at the moment, I would guess somewhere around the 85 percent mark of him returning. Carolina certainly makes up an interesting option, as Jordan Staal would likely approve of Geno’s arrival.

Now let’s head to the Western Conference for a potential Pacific Division destination:

Los Angeles Kings

One of the biggest reasons the Los Angeles Kings are an option at this point to sign Malkin is the fact $20.6 million in cap space can go a long way. General manager Rob Blake has done a nice job with the finances in California, transitioning from Kings legend on the ice to an underrated executive off of it. With Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault down the middle, it’s not the most perfect fit, but perhaps Malkin entertains some left wing if it means he’s getting minutes with Kopitar on a nightly basis.

Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The only other order of pressing business for Blake is signing forward Adrian Kempe and defenseman Sean Durzi, the rest of the team is mostly in tact and/or easily retainable. Living in Los Angeles to finish out your hockey career wouldn’t be the worst way for Malkin to end his career. The Kings may not be as close to contention as he may like, as he’s in full win-now mode, so that will certainly be a factor in his decision. That said, Blake is hopeful his roster can stay healthy enough to give him a chance to evaluate his 1-A nightly lineup. Adding another point-per-game player who has a resume that speaks for itself is usually not a bad idea.

Colorado Avalanche

There may not be enough money to go around in Colorado this summer, especially if they win the Stanley Cup, but if they have room Malkin to the Avalanche would cause quite the stir. Maybe to nobody more than Crosby, who would be sitting on the sidelines watching the two friends who he introduced to each other hanging out without him.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has over $26 million to work with this offseason, as the Avs have big decisions to make on their own free agents once the Stanley Cup Playoffs finish up. As for the 35-year-old Malkin, he isn’t going to sign with a struggling franchise who may overachieve in the next three seasons. If the unthinkable happens and he leaves Pittsburgh, Cup contenders like Colorado make the most sense.

What makes sense to the long-time Penguin when it comes to his market value is the only question that matters at this point. Malkin loves Pittsburgh to his core, but if the team’s offer is anywhere close to a low-ball, the conversation isn’t going to continue. Talks remain active, as the fan base awaits to see what Hextall has in mind for the next step of the franchise. Keep the core intact and pay Malkin what he wants or give him the chance to listen to other teams come early July and see how it all plays out?

One thing we do know, the clock is ticking and a Penguins era hangs in the balance.

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