The Washington Capitals are at a crossroads. Right now, the team is missing its franchise center Nicklas Backstrom, who underwent left hip resurfacing surgery and whose NHL future is in flux. Beyond that, the team also needs someone to help fill in for a recovering Tom Wilson and a number one goaltender.
However, the most glaring need now is to replace Backstrom. The Swede has not only been one of Washington’s most consistent forwards, but a power-play catalyst and elite playmaker who could lead the rush, work wonders with the puck and also play well at both ends of the ice.
Taking all of that into account, there are a number of interesting names hitting free agency on July 13. And one name that stands out is a rather familiar foe in Evgeni Malkin, who — unless the Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign him — will become a UFA.
Given the circumstances, could the Capitals’ longtime rival join them to help fill in for No. 19?
First, let’s take a look at No. 71. He is approaching 36 years old, moving away from the team’s goal of bringing in more youth. He has also not been immune to injuries and also underwent knee surgery back in 2021, though he told reporters his knee is “200 percent stronger” and not an issue. Over his last seven seasons, he has only played in more than 80 percent of the games twice, and only three times over the last nine years.
That right there is a big risk for Washington to take, especially given their injury history over time. Going in for Malkin would mean knowing that there is the risk that he won’t be healthy the entire year or able to lace ’em up for all 82 games.
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However, there’s no denying his production. He played just 41 games last season, but still managed 20 goals and 22 assists, and 20 of those points came on the power play. And, in just 33 games in 2020-21, he had 28 points, and in the pandemic-shortened season in 2019-20, he dished 25 goals and 49 assists in 55 points, and he also finished 10th in Hart Trophy voting. In seven of his last nine seasons, he has registered at least 50 points.
That consistency and point production is key, especially with the Capitals needing a boost to their secondary scoring and a spark on the power play. And, of course, there’s the Russian connection, where he would link well with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.
Looking at the current situation with Malkin and the Penguins, Pittsburgh reportedly wants to see Malkin stick with the organization, per The Athletic. However, there are a number of matters to address for the team, which has not won a playoff series since the first round in 2018.
In the end, it’s sort of a high-risk, high-reward situation. Malkin is a proven producer, power-play catalyst and elite player. However, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy over time. He likely won’t cost as much as his $9.5 million AAV now given different circumstances, but still, the Capitals have a number of needs beyond a center to address, and cashing in on Malkin may not be the best investment if the team wants a proven No. 1 goaltender, a top-6 right winger and a top center.