So, there’s been a lot of talk around the Pittsburgh media and the blogosphere about the possibility of trading center Evgeni Malkin. Whoa…wait a minute. The man who won the Conn Smythe trophy just last season? The man who won the Art Ross Trophy just last season? What the hell?
The logic goes something like this. Sidney Crosby needs a better linemate. In order to get a top-notch wing for Sid, the Pens have to free up some cap space. Trading Malkin is (supposedly) the obvious choice because Jordan Staal is ready to move up to second-line duty and Malkin is inconsistent both in performance and effort. Geno would (supposedly) get the Pens a top-line wing, top-four defenseman and perhaps a first-round pick in return.
OK, I’m a bit confused. Not too long ago everyone was praising the Pens’ approach. They built the team around three exceptional centers and a very good goaltender. In case anyone needs a history lesson, this formula has been rather successful. The Pens made it to the Cup finals two years ago, albeit in a losing effort, then returned last year and emerged victorious. No one was complaining about Malkin, or Crosby’s wingers, when the team was parading through downtown Pittsburgh last June.
All this talk reeks of desperation to me. It’s an overreaction to the Pens’ failure this post-season, which was admittedly both unexpected and disappointing. But let’s look at the facts. Crosby scored 51 goals this season. Malkin had 77 points in 67 games. As a team, the Pens had 101 points and finished fourth in the conference. Not too bad on all counts.
I know, I know – all that truly matters is how you end the season, and I agree. That said, the Pens need to give the three-center formula another go. Why? Because it’s worked. Look at it this way: Was two straight finals appearances a fluke, or was it a fluke to lose in the second round to an inferior team riding a hot goalie? I think the team’s best chances next year are with Crosby, Malkin and Staal down the middle. It’s worked before, and it can work again.