Strange. In one part of the hockey world, the cries are deafening. In another, the silence is soothing. And yet both are in similar situations.
The Penguins and Bruins won their divisions going away during the regular season. In the playoffs, both got through the first round without going the distance and had their second-round series in hand before ultimately blowing them to teams they were favored to beat.
So why are the calls for radical change to the Penguins so loud and to the Bruins so silent? Before they get any louder in Pittsburgh, the Penguins brass best learn a lesson from Boston’s big mistake last summer (see Seguin, Tyler) before they do the same and trade a superstar center (see Malkin, Evgeni).
It’s true that it’s easier to argue for sticking with the status quo in Boston, since the Bruins can point to their recent run of success, whereas the Penguins’ is a little further down the Stanley Cup timeline. So because the Bruins have two Stanley Cup final appearances and one ring in the past three years they get a pass. And they should. They’re a great team that got beat by a good team in the playoffs. That happens occasionally in the post-season.
The Penguins and their fans, meanwhile, are all in a fluster over what to do after another premature playoff exit. For some reason, their back-to-back finals against the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009, of which they won one, are considered past the statute of limitations for making rational hockey decisions.
Yes, those runs happened six and five years ago, and, no, they shouldn’t be weighed as heavily as Boston’s recent run. But they’re still relevant when looking at what a portion of Penguins’ fans and pundits are calling for: trading Evgeni Malkin.
With the exception of James Neal, Pittsburgh’s entire core – Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury – was on those teams in ’08 and ’09. (Chris Kunitz was on the ’09 team.) Of those four players, only Fleury has regressed.
Now, compare cores for moment: Boston has Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. Pittsburgh has Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, Letang and Fleury.
Question: of those players, who are the best two?
Hands down, Crosby and Malkin, who were first and second league-wide in points per game this season at 1.30 and 1.20. So why and on what planet would any rational hockey mind suggest the Penguins should trade Malkin?
The eulogy on Pittsburgh’s 2013-14 season has been one long lament about the Penguins having two of the top five centers in the NHL, as if that’s a bad thing. The calls to trade Malkin are getting so loud they’re silencing the few corners of the hockey world, like this one, that actually have a need to make sense. Unless Pittsburgh gets Alex Ovechkin, Shea Weber or Jonathan Quick straight up for Malkin, trading him is as ridiculous as signing up a chicken for a spelling bee.
Players like Malkin come along once every few years. They’re almost impossible to acquire in any way except through the draft. Ask the Toronto Maple Leafs how hard it is to find one elite center. The Penguins have two.
Pittsburgh’s problems are goaltending and depth. Unless the Penguins can get a top-five goalie in return for Malkin, which is wildly unlikely, trading him is pointless. Dealing him for depth players is even dumber, because those are precisely the kind of players teams should be signing in free agency or developing in their farm system.
Boston dealt a future superstar in Tyler Seguin last year and received a haul of depth players. By season’s end, all of them were either on the Bruins’ third or fourth lines, or in the minors. Seguin, meanwhile, finished fourth in NHL scoring.
And this belief that Pittsburgh has too much money invested in its core is unfounded. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will get around $8.5 million apiece when their deals expire after next season. Those two plus Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith will cost Chicago $33.7 million. Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Letang will cost Pittsburgh $34.4.
If the fans need their pound of flesh, then the Penguins can cut it off for them by firing coach Dan Bylsma, whose best-before date has expired, or buying out Fleury, who’s no longer near the elite goalie he was five years ago. Trading Malkin, however, would just be self-mutilation for the sake of appeasing an irrational section of the fan base.
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.
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