Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins shakes hands with Hal Gill of the Canadiens after a 5-2 Montreal victory in Game 7. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
On the heels of Montreal’s stunning upset of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia becoming just the sixth NHL team to force a Game 7 when down 3-0 in series, I have some thoughts.
First, I think there’s only one thing to be done in Pittsburgh: trade Evgeni Malkin. This is not a commentary on Malkin’s post-season – although chances are I wouldn’t be writing this if the Pens were still alive – and it’s not a new thought.
Jaroslav Halak did outplay Marc-Andre Fleury, especially in Game 7, but in a larger sense the Canadiens did exactly what they needed to do to the Pens – take away the center of the ice. And now Sidney Crosby, Malkin and No. 3 center Jordan Staal are taking heat. Not all the heat by any means, but heat nonetheless.
That Habs’ plan worked to the nth degree and exposed the Pens’ ugly underbelly. Take away those three guys and there’s basically nothing left up front to scare anyone. Pittsburgh’s best scoring options quickly become blueliners Sergei Gonchar – who will more than likely price himself out of Pittsburgh this summer – along with the still-maturing Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski.
And we all saw how well that worked.
Trading Malkin would do a number of things for the Pens. First, it would net Pittsburgh a winger to play with Crosby; God only knows what type of numbers he could put up with something more than an average player to pass the puck to.
Second, it would open up more ice time for Staal; who, although he didn’t put up great numbers, was a beast in the playoffs and looks to be on the verge of becoming a player more akin to older brother Eric than the third line checker he’s been pigeon-holed as.
Also, a Malkin trade frees up cap space; $8.7 million to be exact. That’s a lot of cake. And having Staal’s $4 million as No. 2 center money makes a lot more sense these days. The $8.7-million difference could be spent shoring up a blueline that has just three players signed to it next season.
There’s the other problem in Pittsburgh: the Pens have just 16 players signed for next year and around $11 million to spend, depending on where the cap lands. The Pens could use the extra dough Malkin’s cap hit represents.
And the best part is that Pittsburgh doesn’t have to trade Malkin. The Pens could shop him around for the best deal and if nothing came up simply hold onto him. There are worse things than having Evgeni Malkin on your team.
Here’s an idea a couple of us came up with. I repeat, an idea we came up with. Not a rumor. Malkin and a fifth round pick to Edmonton for the first overall selection, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Sheldon Souray.
Malkin is the star attraction Edmonton has been looking to build around and plays center, a place the Oilers need help. And it would allow Malkin to get out from under Crosby’s shadow, giving him a chance to fully blossom as the leader of his own team.
Pittsburgh would net Taylor Hall with the No. 1 pick, an 18-year-old scoring winger most feel is already NHL ready; just the type of sniper Crosby needs patrolling his wing. Paajarvi-Svensson is another young talent who plays the wing. He’s a speedster in the mold of Phil Kessel. He may not have 40-goal talent, but he’d look good eventually playing alongside No. 2 center Staal.
Souray would replace UFA Gonchar. Souray also has publicly made it clear he wants out of Alberta. The Oilers are handcuffed by Souray’s salary, injury history and the fact he went public with his desire to leave. This trade gets Souray’s $5.4 million off Edmonton’s books and nets them a star in return, while allowing Pittsburgh the two-season luxury of not having to put too much pressure on Letang and Goligoski to score.
Yes, Edmonton gives up a potential star in Hall and a good-looking prospect in Paajarvi-Svensson, but you have to pay for a player who, don’t forget, is just a year removed from the Art Ross and Conn Smythe Trophies. It’d be a good old-fashioned hockey trade and a win for both sides.
20/20 HINDSIGHT FORESIGHT
Meanwhile on the other side of Pennsylvania, those pesky Flyers are looking to become just the third team in NHL history Friday night to win a best-of-seven series after falling behind 3-0.
And they’re doing it for all the same reasons we said they’d win the Stanley Cup last summer in our 2009-10 Yearbook.
“With their depth and talent at forward, how often is the other team going to have the puck?” wrote Ken Campbell. “And once they get it, good luck getting it to the net past a top-four defense corps consisting of Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Ryan Parent.” And don’t forget Matt Carle, who blossomed into a No. 2 or 3 D-man, playing 23-plus minutes per game this season and finishing plus-19.
The other quotient in our Philly equation was the goaltending, which “only has to be good, not great” for the Flyers to have a legit Cup chance. Of course, Campbell was writing about Ray Emery, not Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton, but the equation still stands.
Boucher and Leighton did just enough to get Philly into the post-season and certainly have been better than billed in the playoffs. Boucher was one of the top stories of Round 1, staring down Martin Brodeur in a five-game rout of New Jersey. And if Leighton can get the Flyers into the conference final after not seeing any action since March 16, he will have a chance to become a Philly folk hero.
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