I don’t know about other hockey aficionados who like to play GM, but for me there are defining moments when it comes to players, moments in which I decide “If I had a team, this guy would be on it” or “Nope, I don’t want that guy.”
One of those moments came Monday at Joe Louis Arena when Malone took a Hal Gill slapper in the face, staggered off the ice leaking blood like he’d been shot up the street in Greektown and then returned shortly after with his nose broken and his mug full of stitches in Pittsburgh’s 4–3 triple-overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings.
As a closet GM, I’ve had my eye on Malone for awhile because he’s a big, strong winger with soft hands who scored 27 goals for the Penguins this season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Somebody is going to pay Malone big dough to play next season. If I was Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, I’d put enough lettuce on the table to make sure the 6’4”, 225-pound son of former NHLer Greg Malone is wearing copper and blue when the puck drops.
Clearly, Malone, who has busted his sniffer twice in these playoffs, was separated from Jason Smith and Igor Ulanov at birth. He has the pain threshold of a cadaver.
What makes Malone, 28, different than Smith and Ulanov is he’s not only tough as a $3 steak, he’s a combination of elite skill and extreme grit—you don’t find that in many players.
It looks to me like Malone, who has seasons of 22 and 27 goals on his resume, is on the cusp of becoming one of the best power forwards in the NHL. He’s entering his prime.
I think Malone is a more complete player at this juncture in his career than Dustin Penner, considered good enough that Lowe produced an offer sheet for $21.25 million to pry him out of Anaheim last summer. Malone is now what Penner might become down the road.
By the numbers, Malone has scored 87-82-169 in 299 regular seasons games since being drafted 115th by the Penguins in 1999. That works out to .56 points-per-game. Penner, by comparison, has 56-43-99 in 183 games, or .54 PPG. He’s had back-to-back seasons of 29 and 23 goals.
My guess is it’s going to take more than $4 million a season to get Malone to scrawl his name on a contract, and there’ll be plenty of teams willing to pay it. He made $1.450 million this season.
I’m not saying that the Oilers are interested in getting in on the bidding for Malone, only that they should be. After Monday, I’m convinced of that.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.