The opening of free agency is inching closer, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have yet to come to terms with either franchise cornerstone free agent. While Kris Letang seems to be getting closer to making a deal, Evgeni Malkin remains far apart in negotiations.
The Penguins have continued to show the desire to bring Malkin back, but they also understand that there is a real possibility that he could leave the team this summer. Seeing Malkin in another uniform is enough to ruin most Penguins supporters' day, but some destinations are considered the worst case scenarios.
Division rivals usually jump to the top of these discussions, and that is no different with the New Jersey Devils. A young team on the rise, the Devils had a disappointing season but are looking to take another step in their progression this off-season.
Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald went all in last summer to grab top free agent, Dougie Hamilton, signing him to a seven-year deal worth $9 million per year. With a group of young stars, including centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, Malkin would join a fast and talented team that could allow him to move to the wing and focus more on the offensive side of the puck.
The question becomes whether or not they want to acquire another aging star after just ridding themselves of the PK Subban contract. Signing Malkin would signal that the Devils are ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2022-23, and the Metropolitan Division would get that much tougher.
The rivalry between the Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings has tapered off since the back to back Stanley Cup Final matchups in 2008 and 2009. However, those that hold the 2009 cup team in high regard would loathe seeing Malkin wearing the winged wheel.
Similar to the Devils, the Red Wings need a high-end piece to catapult them into the next phase of their rebuild. Malkin may not yet be part of "the Yzer-plan", but there is no doubt that he would compliment the play of Dylan Larkin and youngster Lucas Raymond.
The current configuration of the league only sees the Penguins playing the Red Wings three times a season, but you can bet that the rivalry would be renewed with Malkin in Motown.
The absolute worst case scenario for the Penguins is if Malkin leaves Pittsburgh to join up with fellow Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin in Washington. Seeing Malkin in Capitals red is nightmare fuel for anyone that supports the Penguins, but it does make some sense.
While former Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury turned down multiple trades to Washington on the principle of being a Penguin, no one knows how Malkin feels about potentially switching sides in the league's top rivalry.
The Capitals will have the salary cap space to sign Malkin this summer and could be looking for a top center due to the uncertainty surrounding Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom could potentially miss the entirety of next season, and possibly have to retire due to a second hip surgery in as many years. With Backstrom's $9.2 million cap hit allocated to LTIR, the Caps will have ample space to go out and replace the star winger.
The best scenario for the Penguins would be to bring Malkin back on a deal that gives the team flexibility to add to the roster afterward. However, if a deal can't be done Malkin will be free to play where he chooses, and several options could come back to haunt Pittsburgh next season.
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