The sad reality of the Penguins community is that when the team does not win the Stanley Cup some people can’t help themselves, but to blame those who are part of the solution. The blaming happens every year and eventually the message is put out there so often more people start believing it. It’s gotten to the point where Evgeni Malkin is believing the bad press.
I have no problem with a player who wants to do better. It’s disappointing when one of the best players in the league is beating himself up to this degree because his general manager and coach had below average seasons which definitely impacted Malkin.
The media is struggling with realistic expectations and feeding into incorrect public perception
Think you see in the coverage of Malkin right now that there's a template missing from Lemieux/Jagr on how players like that age into their thirties. Jagr was a Ranger by the time he was Malkin's age right now. Lemieux was halfway through his first retirement and in bankruptcy court trying to acquire ownership of the franchise. It's possible that even if they'd witnessed the subtle declines and wider variations in season to season performance from generational talents as they aged, it wouldn't matter now. We're pretty good at memory holing that stuff as sports fans, and lord knows facts have never gotten in the way of criticism of Malkin in particular before. Performance is naturally going to drop as a player ages, no matter how good he is. But when you watch superstars in, essentially, only their primes for 35 years, there becomes a certain level of expected play. And when that standard isn't met, it becomes even easier to accept absurd explanations as the reason.
Malkin must have had a brutal season for everything to hit a fever pitch like it has. Let’s take a look at what a “failure” Evgeni Malkin was this season.
It’s only a “failure” because relative to his ceiling (generational center) the numbers are lower. He’s still better than most of the league and would be best on the team if not for Hart Finalist Sidney Crosby.
It is acceptable to criticize Malkin’s 5v5 goal production. However, when you look at his 2.48 points per 60 at 5v5 he is still producing offense at an elite rate. His individual points percentage, which is the percentage of goals Malkin has a point on when he’s on the ice, was a career high 90.91%. His next best year was 88% when he won the Hart Trophy in 2011-12. He was leaned on to do an insane amount of work this year and did a pretty damn good job.
To put Malkin’s season in context let’s look at a star player who had a career year. John Tavares had the best season of his career scoring a career high 47 goals and 88 points. His all-situations points per 60 was 3.37 which was a sliver lower than Malkin (3.38). As far as deployment Tavares was spoon-fed Mitch Marner and Morgan Reilly, two excellent players. Evgeni Malkin did play with Phil Kessel, but he was given a full helping of Jack Johnson. If people want to ignore the negative impact Johnson has on every teammate he plays with at this point, it is just willful ignorance. He had as much to do with Malkin’s “failure” of a season as any other variable. Yet, Malkin still produced at an elite level and is the target of misguided criticism again. Some other names in Malkin’s neighborhood of point production are: Auston Matthews (3.42), Leon Draisaitl (3.40), Mikko Rantanen (3.36), Artemi Panarin (3.33), and Nate MacKinnon (3.30). No big deal. Those other players were also definite “failures” this season.
Nothing shapes a narrative about a player quite like on-ice save percentage. Malkin had the third worst on-ice save percentage among Penguins forwards at .913. When you see good players being targeted with empty criticism you can always count on PDO in some shape or form explaining away the ignorant analysis.
Evgeni Malkin helps and has helped the Penguins way more than Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan ever have or will. He also appears to have more accountability than Rutherford and Sullivan as evidence from the quotes above.
The one nice thing about Malkin criticism is that it makes it easy to identify the people who are ignorant and have agendas. There is no hard evidence pointing towards Malkin being part of the problem.
A wise man once said:
“If you trade Evgeni Malkin, you no longer have Evgeni Malkin”
Thanks for reading!