Six possible destinations for Evgeni Malkin in free agency

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (71). (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Evgeni Malkin is without a doubt one of the greatest players of his generation, with multiple scoring titles and Stanley Cups to his name. But the soon-to-be 36-year-old is about to cross into uncharted territory when he enters free agency on Wednesday, a move that could see him change uniforms for the first time in his 16-year carer.

Malkin has struggled to stay healthy recently but showed in limited time last year that he can still make an impact. In 41 games last season — after missing the first half of the year following knee surgery — he had 20 goals and 42 points. He then followed that up with three goals and six points in Pittsburgh's seven-game series loss to the Rangers.

So, where will Malkin end up next? While the Penguins remain most likely, let's look at some of the other options.

New York Rangers

The Rangers took a big step forward last season by finishing second in the Metro with 110 points then advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. This team is certainly in a win-now mode and Malkin could be the missing piece in the offence.

New York is expected to lose forwards Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte in free agency so they will have openings up front. As New York continues to give younger players larger roles, Malkin would be a bridge as both a veteran who can play and a mentor who knows how to win.

It's unclear what kind of offer Malkin will be looking for in free agency but to join the Rangers he would likely need to take a bargain deal. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported on the latest episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast that general manager Chris Drury wants to keep flexibility under the salary cap with Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and K'Andre Miller all restricted free agents and due for raises in the summer of 2023.

"I think the Rangers are just very careful because they don't want to box themselves in," Friedman said.

Los Angeles Kings

Similar to the Rangers, the Kings jumped back into playoff contention last season — finishing third in the Pacific Division and pushing the Oilers to seven games in Round 1. GM Rob Blake has been aggressive already this off-season by trading for Kevin Fiala and signing him to a long-term contract. But Malkin's skill — on a short-term deal — would also be an upgrade to a Kings team that's still slowly integrating prospects into the fold.

The Kings finished 20th in total goals last season — 15th among all playoff teams — and only three players finished with at least 20 goals. Malkin has the playmaking ability to get finishers like Fiala and Adrian Kempe the puck, but also is a threat to shoot and score on his own. For a team looking to continue to take the next step — and looking to score more goals — that's a nice player to have.

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks are coming off two dissapointing seasons and recently underwent a complete overhaul from top to bottom. Now the team is led by president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin, two key architects in the Penguins' Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017.

The Canucks have been heavily rumoured to be fielding offers for leading scorer J.T. Miller, who has one year remaining on his contract but may be difficult to extend. If Miller is moved, Malkin could step in to replace some of the offence and power play time, for a more manageable contract while youngsters Vasily Podkolzin and Jonathan Lekkerimaki continue to develop.

Malkin could also provide mentorship to Elias Pettersson, a star centre who plays a similar game to the future Hall of Famer. It's hard to quantify Malkin's experience, but he's won at every level and would certainly be able to teach Pettersson plenty.

Tampa Bay Lightning

If Malkin wants to take a league-minimum contract to chase another Cup, he'd certainly have plenty of options. But of all those contenders, the Lightning have shown themselves to be bold enough to make the salary cap bend to their will to add a star of Malkin's calibre.

The Lightning have a number of other contract issues to settle, with pending UFA Ondrej Palat most pressing. If Palat leaves, Malkin could provide a short-term power forward fix in the middle lines of the lineup.

One other advantage the Lightning have is their overall depth, which would allow Malkin to manage his minutes during the season so he can be at his best come playoff time.

Philadelphia Flyers

If Malkin really wants to stick it to his former team, there are few better ways than by joining their state rival.

While it sounds strange to imagine a former MVP and Stanley Cup champion leaving the Penguins to join the Flyers, Malkin wouldn't be the first. The great Jaromir Jagr spent one season in the city of brotherly love, suiting up for 73 games in 2011-12, despite being one of the league's biggest stars while playing for the Penguins in the '90s.

On a more practical level, the Flyers have been connected to a lot of stars in rumours and the team doesn't seem ready to go into a full rebuild despite finishing last in the Metro Division last year. Adding Malkin to play alongside someone like Johnny Gaudreau would instantly make the Flyers a much more intriguing team entering next year.

Washington Capitals

The Flyers will always be the Penguins' biggest rival but during Malkin's time in the league the Capitals have put up a strong challenge for that spot.

In this matchup, Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin has always been the main event but Malkin vs. Nicklas Backstrom has been a great undercard. Now, Backstrom is expected to miss significant time following hip surgery and the Capitals suddenly need a centre to play behind Evgeni Kuznetsov.

Enter Malkin, maybe?

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan has said younger players will be given a chance to fill in for Backstrom, who the team expects will return at some point next season. Still, it could be tempting to replace a future Hall of Famer with another.

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