Evgeni Malkin is Overrated

Kent Wilson
May 14 2010 03:07PM

Pittsburgh Penguins Malkin hangs his head after losing to the Montreal Canadians in their NHL game in Pittsburgh

 

I watched the Habs take down the Penguins in the second round and beyond being struck by how uncanny the Canadiens current run is (remind you of '04 anyone?) I also came away thoroughly unimpressed with Evgeni Malkin, a player I rarely get to see much of here on the West Coast.

He made a lot of questionable decisions with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Drop pass to nobody type stuff. I think I even heard Bertuzzi sigh in frustration a couple of times.

Of course, Malkin is one of the brightest young stars in the league, a 100+ point player and an offensive dynamo. So I just filed the series away because, really, 7 games is a pretty small sample size. I mean, he was a Hart candidate last year after leading the entire league in scoring.

So when I read this piece by John Grigg of the Hockey News suggesting the Penguins should trade Malkin, it initially struck me as a nonsense, knee-jerk reaction. Grigg says the Pens need to free up some cap space to improve their depth on wing. But after looking up Malkin's ES results over the last two seasons, It may just make sense to move him because he's not all that amazing a player. And at 8.7M/season, a guy has to be amazing to provide value for the dollars.

This all sounds ridiculous on it's face, but it's tough to argue against the numbers. Last year, Malkin had downright putrid possession stats: -7.64/60 corsi (-5.2 relative) which was well down the list on a Penguins team that wasn't all that good at driving the puck north anyways (until Bylsma took over that is). Here's the kicker - Malkin began an astounding 63.7% (!) of his shifts in the offensive zone. The only guys getting that kind of cherry ice time in Calgary - ever - are the rawest rookies the coach is trying to actively shelter. Keep in mind that an offensive zone faceoff is worth about +0.8 corsi per instance. The Puck Stops here (who was one of the first guys to notice this stuff) noted that Malkin had one of the very worst adjusted corsi rates in the entire league last season at -192 (raw).

So how the hell did the guy lead the league in scoring? Two answers: bounces and ice time.

First, the bounces - Malkin's PDO (on-ice SH%+SV%) was an out-of-this world 104.7, mostly due to an on-ice SH% of 13.2%. That PDO was the 8th highest in the entire league last year (behind a whole host of Boston Bruins players. Anyone who was reading me at this time last year should not be surprised about this, nor should they be surprised about the Bruins resultant lack of offense this year).So the hockey gods doted on Evgeni last season.

Next up, ice time. No forward played more than Malkin in 08-09. HIs 1,846 minutes led the league, just ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla. He also spent the most time on the power play (455) which was an average of 5:33 per game. 

This season wasn't quite as rosy for Malkin, at least according to the counting numbers. He managed just 77 points and was a -6 through 67 games. Nothing to sneeze at, I suppose, but not really Hart material. Once again, his possession rate was mediocre: +3.35/60 (-2.5 relative). To put that in context, Jordan Staal was at +7.9/60 and Crosby led the way amongst the Pens top 3 centers with a +12.55/60 rating. What's more telling is that Sidney and Staal frequently played the tougher match-ups and still managed to move the puck north more efficicently. In addition, for the second year in a row, Malkin had one of the easier zonestarts on the club at 58.1%. Staal started in the O-zone just 50% of the time while Sidney was up around 56.7%. So, if we were to adjust those numbers, Malkin would probably once again fall into the red.

His counting stats regressed sharply, despite the slightly improved possession rates, because the percentages regressed. Malkin's PDO this year was 97.8 (9.68 SH%). So if you were wondering if Malkin had some innate ability to shift the percentages in his favor, there's your answer (Nope!).

His totals were once again respectable because he was amongst the top 5 forwards in the league in terms of PP ice time per game (4:52 on average). If there's one place that Malkin honestly earns his pay, it's the extra man, so he's a safe bet to put up numbers with generous amounts of time on the PP. That said, he should be much better at ES considering his pedigree and paycheck.

If I were to name this sort of deployment, I'd dub it the "Olli Jokinen treatment". This is the sort of deal Joker had running in Florida: lots and lots of PP time and favorable circumstances at ES that set him up to succeed. It's what allowed him to put up those gawdy counting stats during his time there and convince a large swath of fans (and general managers, apparently) that he was indeed a "#1 center". We all saw what happened when he was actually put into that role this year, however, and I suspect that if Malkin was dealt to a Western Confernece club and asked to carry the mail by himself against other good players, he'd falter in a similar fashion.

To be fair to Malkin, the guy is just 23 years old and may be a few years from figuring everything out. That said, if Pittsburgh called me tomorrow and offered one of Staal or Malkin in a trade, I may have to go for the former rather than the latter.

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 Balthazar
May 14 2010, 06:10PM
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Well. Hunh. THere are complete players and then there is Malkin. I'm surprised by the depth of the numbers, maybe he improves or maybe he's got a few more years and he dips hard as his drive fails.

He's still a stud on the PP and would be an improvement for a lot of teams...

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#2 SmellOfVictory
May 14 2010, 07:03PM
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I was pleasantly surprised to find this post here, as I've always thought Malkin was overrated. Not bad per se, but not worth the pricetag, and not worth the amount of jock-riding he gets from so many people. If Pburg did trade him, Staal would make a pretty great second line centre, and lord knows who they could get in return as (a) winger(s).

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#3 rod blogojevich
May 14 2010, 07:05PM
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Kent, do you think any of those bad numbers have to do with the fact Malkin plays with guys like Talbot and Fedotenko on a regular basis? The only decent wingers PIT had this year who could score were Kunitz and Guerin, who went with Crosby. Then again, Malkin was playing with Ovechkin at the Olympics and flamed out, so who knows. Malkin is absolutely dirty when he is on the right side at the top of the circle on the power play when he just blasts shots on goal, so you're right he earns his check on the PP.

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#4 R O
May 14 2010, 07:07PM
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I don't know about Kunitz, but Guerin is done like dinner. I don't think quality of linemates is an issue, Crosby has had his share of garbage and he comes out ahead, big time.

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#5 R O
May 14 2010, 07:08PM
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Btw, nice post Kent. Everything we know about Malkin, but put into one URL that I can just post whenever someone's giving me grief about 100 point seasons and trophies.

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#6 rod blogojevich
May 14 2010, 07:14PM
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I wonder if he would be better as a winger? Whatever they do with him, that hockey news article is ridiculous. 1st overall, souray and MPS for him? Uh, not happening. I wish I could be paid to come up with gems like that!

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#7 SmellOfVictory
May 14 2010, 07:52PM
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rod blogojevich wrote:

I wonder if he would be better as a winger? Whatever they do with him, that hockey news article is ridiculous. 1st overall, souray and MPS for him? Uh, not happening. I wish I could be paid to come up with gems like that!

Given how highly Malkin is regarded, is it that unrealistic? Souray is pretty much dead weight to Edmonton - he and management aren't getting along, he broke his hand on Iggy's face, and he's old and expensive. Since Edmonton is basically going into full rebuild mode, it's unlikely they'd want to give up two very promising young players, but aside from that, two unproven (yet promising) players for a 'proven' guy who most of the hockey world is madly in love with doesn't seem like a stretch. Unless you're saying that it's a trade that Pit wouldn't make.

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#8 rod blogojevich
May 14 2010, 08:51PM
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I figure Pittsburgh would do that in a second, Edmonton would lose that one badly.

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#9 Jean Lefebvre
May 15 2010, 09:49AM
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Not sure if it's the face or the way he wears his equipment or his body language or some combination thereof, but there are times that Evgeni Malkin brings to mind Oleg Saprykin. That alone may prevent Malkin from achieving true greatness.

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#10 B
May 16 2010, 02:50AM
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Kent? You'd take Staal over Malkin? It's now safe to say you're officially out of the CLUELESS closet.

Joking aside. I actually don't think you're clueless, but come on Kent, you're better than that. Don't overthink the situation.

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#11 R O
May 16 2010, 07:52PM
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Yeah, Kent, don't overthink it. In fact, just don't think at all, just check his POINTS! on NHL.com and baaaaa-aaah like a sheep.

Jesus Murphy. The barrage of stupid opinions that aren't rooted in reality is endless. I don't know how you endure it, Kent.

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#12 maimster
May 16 2010, 08:19PM
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I think the point is that Staal would cost a lot less than Malkin and be worth nearly as much (if not as much).

I'm in agreement about Malkin, I think he's overrated too and think him getting the playoff MVP last year was silly. Crosby makes that team go.

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#13 A18
May 16 2010, 08:40PM
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Interesting... yeah he's on and off. I watch Pittsburgh on a regular basis and its unfair to just analyze through stats. When Crosby was out for a long period of time last season, Malkin started ripping it up. It's a matter of motivation with this guy.

He's high risk, high reward type player.

High Risk = Giveaways and not showing up during games..ie these playoffs

High Reward = Art Ross, Conn Smyth, Stanley Cup (Last year)

Take your pick.

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#14 R O
May 17 2010, 12:07AM
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A18: he's not on and off. He's just off.

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#15 Malkin FTW!
May 17 2010, 08:48AM
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Just off? You know this guy has won a ton of hardware, including the Conn Smythe, right? IIRC, he led the league in take aways not so long ago. Isn't starting your best offensive players in the offensive zone just good coaching? Doesn't it maximize his chances of scoring? I'm sure the Pens are quite happy to keep Malkin and make another long playoff run next year.

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#16 Anders
May 17 2010, 09:39AM
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Malkin's season was disappointing, no doubt.

Throughout 07 - 09 I think he was the best player in the world, however. His highest level of play is among the best I've ever seen, and for those two years he was at that level impressively often.

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#17 rico
May 17 2010, 09:57AM
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consider this is a 23 year old center, still learning english let alone north american culture, and nhl hockey. consider the post-federov era russians and you see a LOT of similarities: great shot, great stick, great skating, not very physical, more east-west than north-south. that malkin has come as far as he has and accomplished so much speaks volumes.

as for the stats, last season malkin had two solid defense pairing behind him that would play physical against everyone. malkin was a back-checking fiend and led the league in takeaways. this year, the pens had letang & goligoski on the blueline and when they weren't turning the puck over, they were allowing opposing forwards into the crease at will. malkin's(and the rest of the pens') backchecking was undone.

if malkin continues to grow(faceoffs and breakaways being his weaknesses and mature( takeaways went down, retaliatory penalties went up) his numbers should improve.

and some legit wingers would help.

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#18 R O
May 17 2010, 10:13AM
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We view a player's results through the lens of the context of their icetime. The fact that he starts a ton of shifts in the offensive zone and yet the puck seemingly always ends up back in his own zone, points to a completely mediocre 5on5 player.

His terrific finishing ability and his admittedly good work on the man advantage, plus a good dose of luck. have buoyed his point totals. You give that icetime to a more complete player and they will dominate it.

Although coaches need their good complete players to play tougher minutes, to help their teams win.

On takeaways: heavily affected by home rink biases and scoring errors. On the ice, it's pretty obvious that Malkin is giving it back more than he's taking it back.

At no point was this guy the best player in the world or even in the top 5. Come on, that's just nonsense.

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#19 Luc
May 17 2010, 12:34PM
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who do you like RO?

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#20 K man
May 17 2010, 02:33PM
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Most Russians have good regular seasons but come playoff time most do not show up.

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#21 R O
May 17 2010, 02:55PM
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Most Russians have good regular seasons but come playoff time most do not show up.

Yeah, that's not steroetyping based on a character trait that doesn't really have a direct impact on hockey skills.

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#22 frey
May 17 2010, 07:30PM
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i'm a huge pens fan and avid follower, and agree whole-heartedly that malkin has some serious issues on-ice that can kill a team. but the high-risk, high-reward call was dead on. given the market for NHLers today, how can you say that what malkin has brought to the pens and pittsburgh isn't worth his contract? he has a hell of a resume already and is one of the most explosive forwards in the NHL. that said, to reach his full potential he needs to NOT BE A CENTER. he can either be the best right-wing in the world, or a -10 +/- rank center with 100 points every year. i'd opt for the former, and have a center on his line that is defensively responsible

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#23 Tim
May 17 2010, 08:55PM
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@ K Man

Pavel Datsyuk?

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#24 matt
May 17 2010, 10:34PM
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need to free up cap space hmmmm I dunno bye bye gonchar bye bye fleury and they can get a lot of depth problem solved and you keep an offensive dynamo, oh btw you lose and overrated goalie and a defensemen who is aged and gives up on plays that allow to shorthanded goals

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#25 DG
May 18 2010, 02:07AM
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First of all, I think the Olli Jokinen comparison is unfair. Jokinen declined, I think, because he wasn't "the man" on the Calgary Flames. I remember him with the Florida Panthers, how hard he competed each night, the impact he had at both ends of the ice- he was *everything*. You couldn't watch a Panther game and just not notice him. I don't know what happened since then. Maybe his ego took a hit, maybe it's fallout from the Richard Zednik situation (when Jokinen's skate cut Zednik's throat- it occurred during Jokinen's final games with Florida)...but his decline was bizarre. Hopefully he returns to prominence in Manhattan because he was my favourite Panther, but we'll see.

Still, it's not the same situation as Evgeni Malkin. Yes, Malkin is getting boatloads of icetime like Jokinen did, but Malkin was never "the man" in Pittsburgh; and he's been a Penguin his entire career, unlike Jokinen whose career decline began with his trade to Calgary. Moreover, Malkin really just had a bad season by his standards- 77 points in 67 games, which are stats other players would still kill for- and, as you said, at 23 he's still got a ton of time to improve. Jokinen is 31 and hasn't posted a point per game since leaving Florida. We just can't declare Malkin "washed up" simply after one season, and, besides, 23's too young to make that statement, no?

I'll agree with the comments that state he has not always been "dialed in" this year, because that's fair and I noticed that too against Montreal (same thing could be said of Sidney Crosby too, by the way). Having said that, I would like to point out Malkin's sole goal was a game-winning goal, unlike Crosby's whose goal turned out to be inconsequential so he did have a bigger impact than Crosby did, albeit not by much. It follows a thought I always had about Malkin- that he carried the team more than Crosby did (2009 Conn Smythe for Malkin, 2009 Art Ross, 2008 and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguin MVP, Hart Trophy runner-up 2008 and 2009), but received less credit- and maybe it caught up to him this year. I'll agree he didn't live up to his billing this year, but I'm not ready to give up on him as a player.

I'd still trade him though, because it'd help the Penguins. The Edmonton trade at THN would be a horrible deal for the Oilers, because I don't think under any circumstances do you give up on Taylor Hall (and the sole attraction to making that trade would be to pair Malkin with Hall). Here are some other ideas I thought of:

-To Washington for Alexander Semin -To Columbus for Rick Nash -To San Jose for Joe Thornton -To Calgary for Jarome Iginla -To Dallas for Brad Richards -To Toronto for Phil Kessel -To Anaheim for Corey Perry

Of course, if Patrick Marleau hits the open market the Penguins could go after him and make the Malkin talk moot. However, trading him for help on the wing is the more viable option at this stage.

Lastly, I do want to explain the Thornton trade. I thought this up more after the Sharks' series with the Colorado Avalanche and seeing his play then as opposed to now, but if San Jose can't beat Chicago (and Thornton flames out again), maybe he needs a trade. He was flying for Team Canada when he didn't have to be "the man" and I believe if he's relieved of the pressure- as he would be with Crosby and Pittsburgh- he'd thrive again. Maybe it's not as attractive as the other options look, but I still could see it happening and is something to think about.

-DG

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#26 K man
May 18 2010, 05:42AM
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Tim wrote:

@ K Man

Pavel Datsyuk?

Some do show up during playoffs,most don't

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#27 BladesOfSteel
May 18 2010, 06:14AM
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Malkin carried the Pens in 08/09. With Crosby injured a good part of the season, Malkin was the number 1 center and he dominated - everyone. He continued to carry them in the playoffs all the way to Lord Stanley's Cup. He was an absolute monster all season. He had an off year for sure in 09/10 and the Pens floundered as a result. If anything, this demonstrates how valuable and necessary he is to the Pens success.

Stats don't always tell the whole story. Sometimes you actually have to watch games to judge a player. Nice analysis but you completely missed the boat here.

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#28 JLikens
May 18 2010, 01:48PM
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Crosby only missed 5 games during the 08-09 regular season.

If you have the audacity to tell someone that they "completely missed the boat", at least try to get your facts straight.

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#29 DG
May 18 2010, 05:59PM
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JLikens wrote:

Crosby only missed 5 games during the 08-09 regular season.

If you have the audacity to tell someone that they "completely missed the boat", at least try to get your facts straight.

I think Blades of Steel got the season wrong- in 2007-08, Crosby did miss significant time (24 games, I think) and Malkin *did* put the team on his back then.

Something tells me he misses that time.

-DG

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#30 R O
May 19 2010, 08:39AM
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Sometimes you actually have to watch games to judge a player.

This is hilarious. Anybody who watches Malkin with a keen eye has seen the way the play dies on his stick at 5 on 5, over and over and over and over.

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#31 44stampede
May 19 2010, 10:21PM
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Luc wrote:

who do you like RO?

He has a man-crush on Langkow.

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