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.