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Friday, January 20, 2012

Malkin the Best in the World – Penguins Could Win the Cup!

From where I am sitting, Evgeni Malkin is the best hockey player in the world right now. Alex Ovechkin is out of the picture due to his lack of dedication (being preoccupied with endorsements and trying to have too much fun while away from the rink). And, unfortunately, Sidney Crosby cannot rightfully be considered as the best player in the world because he has only played a handful of games in the last year and who knows if he will ever return to play a significant amount of hockey. 

I also believe that Malkin was the most valuable player in the league back in the 2008-2009 season, his last injury-free season. Let’s take a look at Malkin’s career including his current position on the scoring leader’s board (which is a great feat in of itself since he was injured and most of the best Penguin players have had time out of the line-up this year). I also want to discuss Malkin’s value apart from his huge point totals—his “Stanley Cup value”—as well as the Penguin’s chances of winning the Cup this year.

Malkin’s first season in the NHL (and with the Penguins) was 2006-2007, and in that year he registered 85 points in 78 games and that earned him 18th place in the league’s scoring race and also the Calder Trophy for being the best rookie. Crosby won the scoring title that year with his 120 points, but if you wanted to compare him to Malkin you would have to consider that Crosby logged more ice time. Malkin improved significantly in 2007-2008, recording 106 points in 82 games, and that earned him second spot in the league’s scoring race—only Alex Ovechkin surpassed him by tallying 112 points. Malkin exploded for 113 points in the 2008-2009 season, and that enabled him to capture the scoring title (winning the Art Ross Trophy) with a 3 point victory over Ovechkin! Ovechkin was awarded the Hart Trophy while Malkin was the runner-up. Malkin was plus 17 in this season while Ovechkin was plus 8. Crosby finished in third in scoring with 103 points in 77 games played and was plus 3 for the season. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year and Malkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the best player in the playoffs. In my opinion, winning the Art Ross, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup all in one year made Malkin the most valuable player in the league, the guy who did it all from start to finish—the best in the world all things considered. If this statement angers you, I would like you to consider the fact that the greatest players make their teammates a lot better and they win Stanley Cups, and that is the additional value that is not registered in statistics. Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky are a few examples of players who had a lot more value than just their scoring abilities. On the other hand, Ovechkin has not been able to have a “Stanley Cup winning effect” on his teammates. It is a character issue. If you were an NHL player back in 2009, would you have rather played on Ovechkin’s team or Malkin’s? Would you rather be wearing a Stanley Cup Champion ring on your finger or be on a losing team? The fact is that it is all about going through the regular season and getting better as a team so that you can make a run at the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup! Winning the Cup is something that cannot be taken from you and you can cherish it for life! By the way, I like to think that most great players have respect for their teammates and their teammates respect them in return. 

In getting back to Malkin’s career, in the 2009-2010 season he only participated in 67 games due to suffering a season-ending injury in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. It was the ligaments in his knee, something that I am familiar with since I have had ligament, tendon, cartilage and bone issues with both of my knees. Injuries like these are nasty and nagging and can be agitated much easier than what it took to cause the injuries. In his 67 games he had 77 points. In the following season, 2010-2011, Malkin only played 43 games due to injuries, leaving the line-up in January. 

Importantly, the Penguin’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay last year was a loss without Malkin in the line-up.

Malkin has worked hard to get back into form for this year’s quest for the Cup. Let us now analyze the current scoring leader’s board. As of January 20, 2012, Malkin has the lead in the scoring race with 25 goals (matching his age) and 30 assists for a total of 55 points in just 40 games! How good is that compared to the others in the league? Well, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin has 52 points but he has played 7 more games than Malkin. Steven Stamkos of the Lightning has 51 points and has played 6 more games as compared to Malkin. Ovechkin has only 36 points in his 46 games, a testimony that hockey is not that important in his life—but I predict that when he hits “rock bottom” he will come back with a better effort; however, if it takes him too long to get to that low point he may not have the skill level to make the effort count. Malkin’s performance thus far this year is truly incredible considering he has played some games while not 100 % and also due to the fact that Crosby has been sidelined for almost the entire season, Letang has been injured since November (just coming back this week), Neal was sidelined, Dupuis was hurt and Staal is still out.   

If Malkin is able to get through the rest of the year without further injury, if his teammates stay healthy and if Marc-Andre Fleury plays to the best of his ability, the Penguins will be a force to be reckoned with and have a pretty good chance to win the Cup. Even if Crosby does not return the Penguins will be a serious threat and could upset. Make no mistake about it, Malkin “is the man” when it comes to playoff hockey (Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in 2008-2009); and, once again, he did not see action in last year’s loss to the Lightning. It will be interesting and exciting to see how the playoff picture unfolds from now until April.  

Take a look at this great goal by Malkin against the Avalanche on November 15, 2011.

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TJ Stanley