For years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been at the top of the list of Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang, the Penguins were one of the better teams for the better half of the last decade.
Unfortunately, as everyone knows, all good things come to an end, and Pittsburgh spot as one of the NHL’s elite has seemingly done just that. The team barely made it to the playoffs this season before being eliminated in five games by the New York Rangers. On top of that, the first-round elimination exposed that the holes on the team are far bigger than what simply having the best player in the world can fix.
The secondary scoring doesn’t seem to be there, and the defense, albeit deplete due to injuries and illness, just had one too many lapses to be considered a top-tier unit. The Penguins need more pieces, but the market for said pieces just isn’t deep on the free agent market. This leads to the thought of the Penguins making a trade to add around Crosby.
But who can Pittsburgh trade to add legitimate talent around their best player? What about their second best player?
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The Penguins have eight forwards on the roster entering next season. Other than Crosby, who everyone knows is untouchable, Evgeni Malkin would be the only forward on the roster that could possible gain a return significant enough to drastically help the team. It’s not even worth mentioning potential defensemen who could be dealt because the only one who’d get anything back is Letang, and there is just no way Pittsburgh ships out their only top-pair blue liner under contract.
Malkin has been with the Penguins for nine seasons, and has done it all for the team in that time. From the Hart Trophy to the Stanley Cup, Malkin has performed at an incredible level while playing second fiddle to Crosby throughout his whole career. And though the two of them on the same team provide massive trouble for opposing defensemen and goaltenders, the thought of adding players could be too enticing to ignore.
Just look at the return for Rick Nash when the Columbus Blue Jackets dealt the forward to the New York Rangers. Two of the big pieces that went back were Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, both of whom have become cornerstones of a resurgent Blue Jackets franchise. If Nash could get that kind of return for Columbus, imagine what a player the stature of Malkin could bring Pittsburgh.
Malkin has a full no-movement clause in his contract, which would give him the right to accept or deny any potential trade. He may not want to be traded, but he also may want to finally be “the guy” for a team after being number two for so long.
Pittsburgh has already stated that they have no intention of trading Malkin. In fact, it’s come from as far up as ownership that there is “no interest” in breaking up the power duo. But if the Penguins have any Stanley Cup aspirations in the near future, it’s time for the team to pull the trigger on a blockbuster.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.