The Metropolitan Division has been one of the most surprising groups to start the 2018-19 NHL season.
Three teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the division, the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders and New York Rangers, are leading after six weeks while the defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals sit in fourth.
At the bottom of the Metropolitan with 17 points through their first 18 games is the Pittsburgh Penguins, a franchise all-too-often the class of the Eastern Conference over the last decade. The 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup champions are amidst a miserable nine-game slide that has seen just one win and three total points taken out of a possible 18.
It’s gotten so bad that general manager Jim Rutherford has already gone to the trade market to try and jolt the roster, dealing Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson.
He might not be done, either.
Hockey insider Bob McKenzie appeared on TSN 1050, revealing that Rutherford “is going to be even more aggressive” on the market, especially with there being plenty of time to right the ship and get back into the Metropolitan mix.
“He’s not very happy right now,” McKenzie said. “The last-place thing doesn’t work very well for him.”
His unhappiness leaves the door open for a franchise-altering trade should the Penguins continue to struggle. Obviously, one of the first names that come to mind is winger Evgeni Malkin.
The 32-year-old has often cropped up in trade talks, most notably before the 2016-17 season when the Chicago Blackhawks were showing interest.
Putting him up for sale would warrant a big return even though he’s exiting the prime of his career. While he’s played second fiddle to Sidney Crosby since arriving in 2006, Malkin is one of the greatest players in franchise history and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Last year saw Malkin put up 42 goals, the most since his MVP-winning 2011-12 campaign when he put up 50. He already has seven goals and 18 assists (25 points) in 18 games, which leads the team.
But don’t expect Rutherford, even a desperate one, to actively shop Malkin, says McKenzie.
“Sometimes the next question would be, ‘Does that mean you trade one of Crosby or Malkin,'” McKenzie said. “No. Not at all. The core is the core.”