The Pittsburgh Penguins are likely going to be without Sidney Crosby to start the year after undergoing wrist surgery earlier this month that will keep him out a minimum of six weeks. There wasn’t any clarity on Evgeni Malkin’s timeline until today, when Penguins GM Ron Hextall confirmed he will likely miss the first two months of the season as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery.
That means the Penguins are without their top two centers for the first bit, but Malkin’s considerably longer absence is a bigger concern. The 35-year-old center is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, which saw him record just eight goals–his lowest total–and 28 points in 33 games. Malkin’s ice time dropped to fewer than 18 minutes a night for the first time and he once again missed a huge chunk of the season.
While obviously, the hope is that he comes back at full strength after the first two months and gets back to the player who scored 74 points in 55 games during the 2019-20 season, that may be wishful thinking for the Penguins faithful. The veteran center has dealt with countless injuries over a long career, failing to play in every game of a season since 2008-09 when he won the Art Ross Trophy with 113 points.
Even once Crosby returns, the absence of Malkin leaves question marks at the center position for the Penguins. The team does have Jeff Carter after a deadline deal last season, but he will turn 37 on January 1 and has seen a decline in offensive production in recent years. Teddy Blueger has shown he is likely better suited in the bottom-six, while other options like Evan Rodrigues and Sam Lafferty are not even proven NHL options. The team does have young prospect Filip Hallander, who has shown strong potential down the middle, and veteran Brian Boyle in camp on a PTO, but there will certainly be a void felt while Malkin is on the sideline.
With the ever-competitive Metropolitan Division coming back into play this year, losing Malkin for two months could be devastating. There are at least three teams in the division that are already projected to be equal or better than the Penguins this season, while each of those that missed the playoffs last year are expected to take steps forward. Every game will be important, and now the first 20 or so will be without one of the team’s key players.