His name is Evgeni Malkin, but around the NHL, they’re beginning to call him Magic Malkin.

Not an original nickname, since former basketball superstar Irvin Johnson was known as Magic during his glory days in the NBA years ago.

But Malkin seems deserving of his new nickname. Indeed, Malkin has been magical in recent weeks while leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to new heights and taking over the NHL’s scoring lead – all while his superstar teammate, Sidney Crosby, has been out with a badly sprained ankle.


Realistically, Malkin has placed himself in position to succeed Crosby as the NHL’s most-valuable player. Without Crosby, and with the magic of Malkin, the Pens have been a remarkable 8-4-2. Entering last night, Malkin had amassed 38 points (19 goals, 19 assists) in his past 20 games.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Pittsburgh teammate Ryan Malone said. “He’s done more than we could have imagined. We’ve missed Sid, obviously, but Malkin has made life a whole lot easier for us.”

Malkin surpassed fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals’ sniper, as the NHL’s scoring leader.

“I’ve never had a stretch like this, in the NHL or in Russia,” Malkin said. “It’s been a nice ride. I sure hope it lasts.”

To ensure that, the Pens hope to persuade Malkin’s parents to stick around Pittsburgh. They arrived in Pittsburgh two weeks ago and are scheduled to stay there until the end of the month.

“Maybe he’s just trying to show off to them,” Malone joked. “Whatever he’s doing, we just want him to keep on doing it, so we hope his parents stay longer.”

Malkin attributes his performances largely to a reunion with linemate Petr Sykora. The two played together with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Russian Super League during the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05.

“It’s nice to play with (Malkin) again,” Sykora said. “A lot of people didn’t think he’d be this good and take over and carry the team when Sid got hurt. I had no doubts in my mind. I knew how good he was and it would have surprised me if he didn’t do it. I’m very proud of him.”

• The New York Rangers are a troubled team.

Their superstar, Jaromir Jagr, has not scored a goal in 12 games.

Against Western opponents this season, the Rangers are 1-7-2.

“We could use an impact player,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. “We need someone to play with Jagr and help him get out of this. He’s still got a lot of hockey left in him. He just needs someone to help him.”

Sather is trying to make a trade before Tuesday’s NHL deadline, and the No. 1 target on his shopping list?

Mats Sundin, captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

• I noticed, by the way, that users couldn’t access the trade-deadline props that were listed earlier this week at www.beted.com.

I wrote in Wednesday’s York Report in Metro newspapers that this gaming site had produced an eyebrow-raising assortment of NHL trade-deadline props for wagering purposes, including props concerning Sundin. The site listed the Vancouver Canucks as 2-to-1 favourites to obtain Sundin.

Following the Canucks on beted.com’s list of Sundin head-hunters were the Anaheim Ducks, at 2.5-to-1, the Calgary Flames, at 4-to-1, the San Jose Sharks, at 5-to-1, the Dallas Stars, at 6-to-1, and the Ottawa Senators, at 10-to-1.

A very good bet on the Sundin prop seemed to be “the field.” Those who wagered on Sundin to be dealt to the field -- consisting of every team not mentioned above -- would have received odds of 15-to-1. It should be noted that the Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings also strongly covet Sundin, which is why listing the Canucks as the favourites for his new destination seemed odd, as did the 5-to-1 odds on the site that Sundin wouldn’t be traded. Getting 5-to-1 on that prop seemed very good, considering the captain has been adamant all along that he will not waive his no-trade right.

All of which made me wonder if that was why these props are no longer available on www.beted.com.

Oh, and there was one other factor that came to mind. What if people involved in the deal felt like making some money? That is, what if Toronto’s interim general manager, Cliff Fletcher, decided he wanted to lay down a few bucks on the prop immediately after he made the deal, or concluded that a deal would not be completed for Sundin? Or what if some aide of Fletcher’s, or anyone else in the know, felt like padding their wallets a bit?

Hey, it would be perfectly legal and I’ve seen much stranger things happen in my life.

Brian Campbell of the Buffalo Sabres and Dan Boyle of the Tampa Bay Lighting are undoubtedly the premier unrestricted free-agent defencemen being mentioned as trade possibilities before Tuesday’s deadline, but there are a handful of less renowned names who could very well find themselves with new teams next week.

They include: The Florida Panthers’ Jassen Cullimore, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Ron Hainsey, the San Jose Sharks’ Christian Erhoff, the Chicago Blackhawks Cam Barker, James Wisniewski and Andre Zyuzin and the Colorado Avlanche’s Jeff Finger and Kurt Sauer.

• And, speaking of defencemen, I wonder how it feels to be David Hale these days.

He’s a stay-at-home kind of guy with the Calgary Flames and he’s got a stranglehold on a record that he obviously wishes he didn’t own.

Hale, entering last night, had played in 203 NHL games without scoring a goal.

His closest, er, competitor had been Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik, but he actually put a puck in the net the other night, ending his goalless string at 180 games.

So let us hail David Hale.


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