I have to admit I never thought I'd see the day. Don't get me wrong, I still remember what life was like in those years between Mario's dominance and the start of the Crosby era. It was glorious. The 2000 conference semis. The 3 years in a row the Pens racked up over 40 losses per season. But I was just a young lad at the time and I took it for granted. I never truly cherished the years when Pittsburgh sucked the way I should have.
Then a couple of kids named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin walked into the league and it all went to shit for Flyers fans. Between the two of them they won 3 Stanley Cups, made 4 Finals appearances, 4 Ted Lindsay Awards, 3 Hart Trophies, 3 Art Ross Trophies, and 2 Rocket Richard Trophies, and a Calder Trophy. They haven't missed the playoffs once since Malkin and Crosby were together unless you're not counting the qualifying round in the bubble as the playoffs. Even still, that's an insane run they went on for 16 seasons together. I just figured that was the way life was going to be forever. Even in down years like when they got swept out of the first round by the Islanders in 2019, you just assumed there was always the chance they could get hot one last time and win it all.
Now it's over.
Or at least it looks like it's over. There's always a chance that Malkin just wants to see what other offers are out there before he signs with Pittsburgh again on Wednesday. It's not like the 8th year he'd be able to get by signing today as opposed to only 7 years he could possibly get as a free agent is going to make a difference when he's not looking for long term. But still. The fact that he's been able to talk to Crosby and Letang this whole time and still hasn't signed a deal makes it hard to see a way he's wearing a Pens jersey next season.
I'm not going to get crazy here and say that Evgeni Malkin is underrated. He's certainly a superstar in this league. But the sickening thing to think about with Malkin is when you look at how much better Sidney Crosby makes every player around him look. Just think of the countless no-name wingers who have been thrown on a line with Crosby and then turn into 30-goal scorers out of nowhere. Crosby makes everybody else around him so much better but somehow Malkin is an even better player when Crosby isn't in the lineup. 199 career points in 148 games played without Sid in the lineup. That's what has kept Pittsburgh going for this long. Because even when Crosby is out of the lineup with an injury, they could rely on Malkin to step right up and be the best player on the planet. That's a pretty sick insurance policy to have when your superstar captain has a history of getting hurt. Once they lose that security blanket this team is going to shit the moment Crosby has to miss any extended period of time.
So yeah. Wednesday just got a lot more interesting. Geno is far from the same guy he was when he was putting up 100+ point seasons and racking up 50+ assists. But he'd still be a huge get for a lot of teams out there looking to get themselves over that hump. I can't imagine the Penguins will last long in a bidding war if it comes to it. The end is here.
PS -- I firmly believe that Ron Hextall is sabotaging the Pittsburgh Penguins organization from within. Which would make him the biggest Flyers legend ever.