A few hours before the NHL Draft on Thursday, Evgeni Malkin was at his South Florida home asking himself a question about his future with the only NHL team he’s known.
“Do they want me?” Malkin wondered in a text to The Athletic.
Well, do they?
Penguins general manager Ron Hextall’s answer to that question is “yes” — the GM said Friday he’s hoping to make a trade that would offer cap relief, which would also let the team more comfortably sign Malkin — but stalled negotiations between Pittsburgh and Malkin’s agent, J.P. Barry, have cast considerable doubt in Malkin’s mind. At the very least, Malkin believes the Penguins only want him back on their terms — and their terms and Malkin’s asks have been far apart.
Malkin has tried to remain outwardly calm, saying “everything is OK, life is good.” But close friends, including current teammates, said that Malkin is “devastated” by the lack of movement with the Penguins on what he anticipates will be his final NHL contract.
“He wants to play only in Pittsburgh,” one of Malkin’s friends said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“He doesn’t understand how it’s at this point with him not being signed,” the friend said. “He’s said, ‘They don’t think I’m a good player — why?’”
Added a longtime current teammate who spoke with Malkin this past week: “It bothers me how this is happening. It’s a bad look. From what I know of what’s happened, Geno deserves better.”
Friday, as the NHL Draft wrapped, Barry and Hextall were planning to speak in an effort to advance talks that had gone nowhere.
How did it get to this point?
The Athletic spoke with multiple team and league sources to better understand a hockey marriage on the brink.
A year ago, Malkin was early in the stages of a second major knee rehab. He played the 2021 playoffs with two torn ligaments, going against the advice of several people close to him, because he believed the Penguins were capable of a deep run.
They didn’t, but not because of Malkin. He recorded five points in four games against the stingy Islanders, all the while knowing he would need a second surgery on the same knee he injured almost a decade earlier.
He anguished when tests confirmed what he already knew about his knee, partly because he understood rehab would cut into his offseason training and set him back going into the final season of his contract.
Mario Lemieux, then the Penguins’ majority co-owner, assured Malkin the Penguins “would take care of him,” multiple ownership sources said.