Even in a year in which the Pittsburgh Penguins were swept out of the first round, they somehow are still creating headlines deep into the playoffs. As wild card teams battle for a chance at the Stanley Cup, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is sitting back dissecting what went wrong this year and how to change things for 2019-20. This week’s 31 Thoughts podcast with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman starts out with a discussion of the Penguins, specifically addressing the Evgeni Malkin rumors that have popped up once again. Friedman put it this way:
I did get a call last night from somebody who has heard the rumors, and he thinks that they are not media make-up. He thinks they are legit. Malkin didn’t have a great year. He wasn’t up to Malkin standards. And [this source] is wondering if they’re trying to rattle [Malkin’s] cage a little bit. Just to say, “you know Evgeni, last year wasn’t you. We want you to be you,” and maybe this is a way of doing it. Malkin has a no-movement clause, and the word is he’s at least thinking about would he agree [to waive it].
It seems that there have been Malkin trade rumors after every season that didn’t end in a Pittsburgh Stanley Cup, and this year appears to be no different. The important part to note is that no-movement clause however, as the 32-year old center controls his own destiny. Malkin is under contract for three more seasons with a $9.5MM cap hit, and and recorded 72 points in 68 games this season.
Before getting into Malkin, Friedman slips in a note on another Penguins superstar:
The Penguins are contemplating some major changes. I think it is very likely that [Phil] Kessel is traded regardless.
Kessel, 31, has strong trade protection in his contract as well. The former Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs forward submits an eight-team list that he can be traded to, limiting where the Penguins could send him without his blessing. The enigmatic winger had another outstanding offensive season recording 82 points and played in every game for the ninth consecutive year. He has three years left on his current contract, but since the Maple Leafs are still retaining $1.2MM of it he comes with a cap hit of just $6.8MM.
When the conversation turns to the Penguins blue line and the now infamous comments by Rutherford on the strength of his defense right now, the obvious center of discussion is Kris Letang. The offensive defenseman put up 56 points in 65 games this season and is under contract for three more years. Interestingly though it is another Penguins defenseman that Friedman dishes some information on:
I’ve been told that [Olli] Maatta’s trade value is very low. They’ve tried to do that for a while, and it hasn’t gone anywhere. So, we’ll see.
Maatta ended up a healthy scratch in the playoffs this season for the Penguins, and finished with just 14 points on the year. His foot speed has been questioned in the past, but the 24-year old is just a few years removed from signing a six-year, $24.5MM extension after looking like a core piece through the first part of his career. Still, he remains a likely candidate to be moved if the Penguins are really shaking things up this offseason.