Could the 2016 Stanley Cup final be the last time we see Evgeni Malkin in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform? That's the opinion of Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, who believes the Penguins could trade the 29-year-old center in the off-season.
Kypreos and colleague Doug MacLean cite Malkin's lack of speed in the 2016 playoffs, especially in five-on-five situations. “He (Malkin) wants to play a slower game than they (the Penguins) want to play,” MacLean said. Kypreos thinks this summer couldn't be a better time for the Penguins to move Malkin, suggesting it makes no sense for them to move forward with he and Sidney Crosby both on the payroll.
MacLean wonders how good Malkin would look in Montreal if the Canadiens don't get Tampa Bay Lightning captain (and pending free agent) Steven Stamkos this summer. He also suggests the Vancouver Canucks as a destination.
Kypreos proposed the Florida Panthers, noting Jaromir Jagr is returning for one more year. “He could slide right in there.” He adds it's a good time for the Penguins to shed Malkin's $9.5-million annual average salary when they're potentially coming off a Stanley Cup championship. With Nick Bonino and their young kids stepping up, Kypreos believes they've got to dump some salary.
MacLean asks about perhaps moving goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Kypreos expects expansion could take care of that.
Speculation over Malkin's future is nothing new. In June 2008, a rumor claiming the Penguins might ship him to the Los Angeles Kings quickly came to nothing when he was re-signed to a five-year extension. Last June, Malkin, his agent, and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford swiftly denied whispers of his supposed unhappiness in Pittsburgh.
It's worth noting Malkin is two years into an eight-year, $76-million contract with a full no-movement clause. Even if he accepts a trade, there will be a limited number of acceptable destinations. Many of them could be teams lacking the room to absorb his hefty annual cap hit, even if the Pens were willing to retain part of it.
Assuming Malkin hits the trade block, if he's supposedly unwilling to play a faster game, he won't be a good fit with the fleet-footed Canadiens. He certainly won't want to play second fiddle to Henrik Sedin in Vancouver for the next two years. The Canadiens and Canucks lack the depth in young, affordable quality talent the Pens would surely want in return.
The Panthers have plenty of those assets, but that doesn't mean they need Malkin. They're already deep at center with Aleskander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad (both signed long-term at a combined $10 million), Vincent Trocheck (a restricted free agent likely to receive an affordable extension) and the recently-acquired Jared McCann. And Jagr already has great chemistry with Barkov and left winger Jonathan Huberdeau.
Speaking of the Canucks, another British Columbia native could consider them a destination via free agency in July. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports Chicago Blackhawks left winger Andrew Ladd acknowledged the Hawks lack of cap space means they're unlikely to re-sign him.
Ladd, a native of Maple Ridge, B.C., admits it crossed his mind about joining the Canucks. He also didn't rule out a possible return with his previous club, the Winnipeg Jets.
Before Canucks or Jets fans get their hopes up, Ladd also said he wants to win and compete for a Stanley Cup. With the Canucks rebuilding and the cost-conscious Jets having already rejected re-signing Ladd to an expensive extension, it's unlikely he'll land in either city this summer.
ISLANDERS WILL HAVE BUSY OFF-SEASON
The New York Islanders could be busy in the off-season trade market. Newsday's Arthur Staple reports there's been no contract discussions between management and pending UFA forwards Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin. Preliminary talks have started with UFA center Frans Nielsen, but it's possible he could follow Okposo and Martin out the door on July 1.
Staple considers this year's crop of top UFAs to be thin, speculating GM Garth Snow could go the trade route to bolster his roster. He doesn't know who Snow could target or what the Isles GM is willing to part with, but offered up a dozen possible options.
Topping Staple's list is Toronto Maple Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk, followed by Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, defenseman Nikita Nesterov and goalie Ben Bishop.
He also includes Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, Dallas Stars right winger Valeri Nichushkin, Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Cam Atkinson, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Beau Bennett, Philadelphia Flyers left winger Wayne Simmonds and defenseman Mark Streit and Edmonton Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle.
Of these, van Riemsdyk, Killorn, Callahan, Carter, Atkinson and Simmonds are probably unavailable. All play valuable roles with their respective teams and the asking prices could be more than Snow is willing to pay. Atkinson did surface in the rumor mill earlier this season, but went on to become a key two-way winger under coach John Tortorella.
Andrei Vasilevskiy's strong performance filling in for the sidelined Bishop against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference final could make the latter expendable. But as Staple points out, Bishop has a full no-movement clause. He's also a UFA next summer, making him a risky acquisition. Nesterov might be available, but he's coming off an entry-level deal and should be an affordable re-signing for the Bolts.
Nichushkin's struggled with injury and limited playing time in Dallas, but the Stars could give him another season to develop. Bennett is likely available if the Isles want him. The Flyers could try to move Streit this summer, but it's unknown if he'll accept a return to the Isles. The Oilers could prefer retaining Eberle and instead shop center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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