If you mentioned a decade ago after the heated 2012 Philadelphia Flyers – Pittsburgh Penguins playoff series that Penguins’ center Evgeni Malkin would hit free agency in 2022 and the Philadelphia Flyers would be potential suitors, it would seem quite literally unbelievable. Yet today, that could very well be the case. Penguins GM Ron Hextall has apparently lowballed the Russian center and that could lead to his eventual departure from a team he has called home since 2006. Philly is in need of center depth and Malkin fills more than one hole the Flyers have, so if he does indeed make it to free agency, does it make sense for the Flyers to pursue Malkin this summer?
Desperately needed center depth
The Flyers will want to be competitive next season and need center depth to do so. There’s a stunning lack of talent in the free agency pool this season, so if Malkin does indeed make it that far, he’d immediately rise to the top of the priority list for many teams, the Flyers included.
He can still produce
Even though the injuries are mounting and he isn’t coming close to playing full seasons anymore, when he is healthy and in the lineup, he’s still a beast offensively. Malkin posted 20 goals and 42 points in 41 games during the 2021-22 season, with 20 of those points on the powerplay. He’s eclipsed the 20-goal mark every season since 2014 sans the shortened 2020 season, and has been over a point-per-game player since 2012. Not to mention he has 438 powerplay points in his career, still regularly breaking the 20-point plateau there as well. For a team that struggled as hard as the Flyers at scoring goals both at even strength and on the man advantage, those are some irresistible numbers.
Short term fix
The worrying part of the Flyers looking for a center fix elsewhere in free agency comes down to the length of the contract. Malkin, who will turn 36 this summer, doesn’t have much time left, thus a short-term deal is inevitable. A one or two year deal for Malkin, even if it’s at a higher cap dollar, sounds more enticing than a four or five year deal to someone like Nazem Kadri or Vincent Trocheck.
The obvious downside to signing Malkin comes down to what he has left in the tank health wise. He has played just 197 of the Penguins’ 289 games over the last four seasons, missing half of the 2021-22 campaign. Malkin hasn’t played a full 82-game season since 2008-09, with his most complete effort coming in 2017-18 with 78 games played. After the Flyers added Ryan Ellis last season and his injury history bit them hard, would they get cold feet trying a similar situation with Malkin?
Malkin has been in the league since 2006 and will turn 37 in July. He’s 19 games away from 1,000 with an additional 177 playoff games under his belt. Needless to say he has some hard miles on his body. Though other than the injuries limiting his games played, his quality of play hasn’t seemed to dip much. So as long as they get him on a short-term deal, there’s no real reason to assume this would be the year the tires would fall off completely, but it can’t be entirely ruled out, either.
Adding Evgeni Malkin in 2022 may not be the coup that it seemed if you floated this theory a decade ago, but at the same time, you know exactly what you’ll get in Malkin, a big, responsible center with a mean streak that can still score at an elite pace. He’d be a great stopgap for the Flyers as they stay patient for a real, long-term solution at the center position.
Though after a season where injuries ravaged the Flyers, finding yet another body to take up an IR slot may not be overly enticing. It comes down to the gamble of whether they’d get 60 or 70 games out of him or closer to 40-50. If it’s the latter, maybe this marriage wasn’t meant to be, but if he can gut it out for, say, 65 games and still produce at a point-per-game clip, it’d be a hard option to turn down. It’ll all come down to how Ron Hextall plays his cards this summer, and as a fanbase familiar with his decision making, it’s within the realm of possibility that the seven-time all-star and three time Stanley Cup champion could start next season on a new team.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com