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Evgeni Malkin is in in Pittsburgh afterall.
The Penguins and the Russian star agreed to a four-year contract on Tuesday night, worth $6.1 million a year. The agreement was signed just hours before center three times won the Stanley Cup was set to become a freelance agent for the first time in his career.
Instead, 35-year-old Malkin will be with longtime teammates Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. The Penguins signed Letang to a six-year deal last week, but progress on a new deal with Malkin appeared to have stalled late Monday, as one with knowledge of his thought process Malkin told The Associated Press that Malkin intends to test open the market.
What seemed likely to be a bitter divorce with the start of the freelance company looming on Wednesday has instead turned into an 11-hour deal. Year 2012 Hart Trophy Winner and the two-time scoring league champion will stay with the team that brought him to the second overall pick in the 2004 draft.
“Evgeni was a talent of his generation who will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NHL history,” Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said in a statement. “His hockey résumé and personal accomplishments say a lot about him as a player, and we are pleased to see him continue his remarkable legacy in Pittsburgh. .”
Pittsburgh’s core of Malkin, Letang and Crosby will stay together at least until 2025, when Crosby’s deal expires. Crosby made it clear that he wants Penguins to find a way to keep both of his longtime companions, with Hextall allowing that “in a perfect world” the club would find a way to make it work.
At the last minute, the planets seemed to align.
The penguins are looking forward to Malkin’s return to shape as he enters his late 30s. Malkin missed half of the season before recovering from knee surgery. He scored 20 goals with 22 assists in 41 games and added three goals and three assists in Pittsburgh’s first play-off loss to the New York Rangers.
Malkin has played more than 70 games in a season just once since being named MVP in 2012.
When he joined, however, he was still a strong goalscorer, especially in power play. The hugely popular Malkin has long thrived alongside Crosby. He’s in the top 5 in most major statistical categories in franchise history, including games (981), goals (444), assists (702) and points (1,146).
The deal follows several re-signings of Penguins, who have reached the knockout stages for 16 consecutive seasons but have not made it past the first round since 2018.
In addition to bringing Letang back on a six-year contract, Pittsburgh has signed forwards Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell to a long-term contract extension.
Signing Malkin means the Penguins won’t have much to spend on the open market as they try to keep their Stanley Cup window open with their aging core.
Bringing Malkin back shows that Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke believe there’s enough left in Malkin’s tank to keep the Penguins in the Urban.