Rehabilitation from knee surgery and the angst from missing nearly a half season inspired Evgeni Malkin to put in his most rigorous offseason training a year ago.
The Penguins center liked the results so much he plans on repeating the process this year -- including, he hopes, a return visit to his offseason base, Moscow, by team conditioning coach Mike Kadar.
"Yeah, he loved Moscow," Malkin said of Kadar earlier this week. "We haven't talked yet, but I think he's coming.
"I will work on my knee again, [work out] physically again. We'll see next year. I feel great, and I want to win again. I don't think I'm going to change because I had a great year. Nothing will change."
Well, there will be that little side trip to Las Vegas for the NHL awards June 22. Malkin will collect his second career Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer and perhaps the Hart Trophy as the MVP. He was named Friday as one of three finalists for the Hart, along with Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Malkin is widely considered the favorite.
The Hart Trophy is determined in a vote by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Before the awards, Malkin plans on playing for Russia in the IIHF world championships next month in Sweden and Finland.
Then, he can dive into those offseason workouts with the hope of recapturing his regular-season performance, which included hitting 50 goals for the first time and leading the NHL with 109 points. His earlier scoring title came in 2008-09, when he had a career-best 113 points.
Malkin, 25, and the Penguins followed a productive regular season -- 51 wins, 108 points -- with a six-game loss to rival Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
He finished with a relatively quiet three goals, eight points, tying him for second on the team in points with Sidney Crosby, one behind Jordan Staal.
Malkin said he wasn't hindered by injuries -- "Everything's good," he said -- but he wasn't left feeling great about the early postseason exit.
"Of course, it's disappointing that we lost in the first round," he said.
Malkin is hoping the Penguins will remain pretty much intact for next season, particularly when it comes to their big three centers.
General manager Ray Shero has said he hopes he can keep Malkin, Staal and Crosby for the long term, but he can't guarantee it because of the NHL salary cap and uncertainty over the collective bargaining agreement that expires Sept. 15.
Crosby and Staal are signed through the end of next season and then would be eligible for unrestricted free agency. They can negotiate and re-sign anytime after July 1, but the CBA might cloud that timetable.
Malkin is signed through 2013-14.
"I think it's very important," he said of keeping the strong-down-the-middle model. "I'd like to stay here. I think [Staal] and Sid ... first of all, fans love the two guys. We have still a good team.
"Yeah, this year [in the playoffs] wasn't great, but we have a chance every year."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: email@example.com and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published April 28, 2012 12:45 AM