Professional athletes often get judged on how they handle adversity. Whether returning from an injury or being doubted by the organization that employs them, athletes that overcome those circumstances are usually praised more for their efforts. Evgeni Malkin is heading into next season with a chip on his shoulder and has plenty to prove to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now I know what you're thinking. What does a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the four greatest Penguins of all time have left to prove?
The Penguins re-signed the Russian superstar to a four-year deal worth $6.1 million annually. However, Malkin was unhappy with how the negotiations transpired and was shocked that it took as long as it did to get done. Malkin was ready to walk into free agency for the first time in his 16-year NHL career.
The major hiccup in those negotiations was the hesitancy of the Penguin's front office to give Malkin the fourth year he was seeking on the deal. Meanwhile, the team had already signed three other players (Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, and Kris Letang) to six-year contracts earlier in the off-season.
Fortunately for both sides, a deal was agreed upon the night before the opening of free agency, bringing Malkin back to Pittsburgh for presumably the remainder of his career. So what will Malkin be looking to prove to the Penguins?
The main doubt with Malkin is whether or not he can remain healthy throughout the season. The soon to be 36 year old has failed to reach the 70-game plateau in seven of the past eight years, two of them shortened due to covid.
Next season will be the first since the 2019-20 season where Malkin will enter having an entire off-season without rehabbing an injury. In 2020, Malkin had surgery to clean up a recurring issue in his left elbow, which will require major surgery once his playing days are over. Last off-season, Malkin had reconstructive knee surgery that hampered his ability to train during the summer and held him out the first three months of last season.
With an entire summer of health under his belt and a full training camp to ramp up to the regular season, Evgeni Malkin will be in a much better spot heading into the season than in recent years and will look to stay out of the training room for the better part of the year.
Coming off knee surgery made Malkin look a step slower throughout last season. He still showed his patented gallop through the neutral zone, but that was few and far between throughout the year. Heading into 2022-23, Malkin has the chance to prove to the Penguins and the entire league that he is still just as strong of a skater as he was before the second knee injury.
Any rumors of his regression in point production have been greatly exaggerated. Last season, Malkin scored 42 points (20-22) in 41 games, a pace where he would've scored 40 goals and 84 points if he played all season. Those totals would've tied him with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby for the team lead in points and Guentzel for the team lead in goals.
At 5v5, Malkin's underlying numbers were good despite playing with a rotating door of wingers who all struggled to finish opportunities leading to Malkin only producing 18 points (10-8) at 5v5. According to Natural Stat Trick, Malkin finished the year with 54.23 percent of the expected goals and 54.39 percent of the scoring chances when on the ice at 5v5.
Evgeni Malkin proved he could return from a second major knee injury and provide offense last season. Now, with the front office showing doubt in his durability during off-season negotiations, expect him to prove a lot more next season.
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