The Malkin Story: Penguins paying him top dollar while hurt
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The Penguins are adamant about keeping center Evgeni Malkin off the injured-reserve list, and it would be easy to construe that as evidence that his return to the lineup is imminent.
It also would be incorrect.
Turns out their plan has very little to do with hockey and a great deal to do with letting Malkin know how much he means to the franchise.
Article 15.6 of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement lays out a formula for determining how much players who spent fewer than 50 games in the league during the previous season are to be paid if they are placed on IR during training camp, but players who worked outside of North America are not covered by that provision.
Indeed, because Malkin, a rookie who played in his native Russia last season, did not get any games in the NHL or the minors in 2005-06, the CBA calls for the Penguins to pay him based on the minor-league salary of $70,300 stipulated in his contract if he had joined Eric Cairns and Ronald Petrovicky on injured reserve.
Keeping Malkin off IR while he recovers from a dislocated left shoulder means his paychecks will reflect the $850,000 he is scheduled to earn for playing in the NHL, which clearly is where the Penguins plan to use him.
Yesterday, general manager Ray Shero declined to discuss what impact, if any, that wrinkle in the CBA has had on the team's decision to keep Malkin on active duty.
He acknowledged that, at the very least, Malkin figures to sit out the Penguins' opener against Philadelphia tomorrow at 7:35 p.m. at Mellon Arena and a home game against Detroit two nights later.
Their next game after those two is against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden a week from tonight.
Although the Penguins don't have a timetable for Malkin's return, Shero said he hopes to have one later this week. He added that the team won't rule out putting Malkin on IR if it needs to clear a spot on the 23-man roster because of a trade or waiver acquisition.
That could have been necessary yesterday, when the Penguins claimed forward Chris Thorburn off waivers from Buffalo, but they opted to assign goalie Dany Sabourin to their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre.
Sabourin's departure leaves the Penguins with two goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start the opener against Philadelphia tomorrow night, and veteran Jocelyn Thibault.
Malkin joined his teammates about 30 minutes into an hour-long workout at Mellon Arena yesterday. He weaved around center ice, mostly on his own, while stickhandling and shooting pucks, albeit usually without much vigor or force.
Opposing teams are certain to target Malkin's bad shoulder when he resumes playing and, even if they didn't, the nature of his injury probably makes him more vulnerable to another dislocation than a player who hasn't had a similar injury.
That isn't an issue on which the Penguins seem to be dwelling.
"It's really hard to say," Shero said.
"It's like any injury. ... Are you more at risk [of re-injury]? I guess. We'll see.
"Obviously, we're looking at the positive, that he can come back [without surgery] and go through the season. And if he can go through the season, maybe it won't have to be repaired at all. There's never a guarantee with any of these things."
There isn't one that Malkin's presence will make the Penguins legitimate playoff contenders, either, although their chances figure to be greatly enhanced if he's not out too long.
"Obviously, he's going to be a big piece of this puzzle," said right winger Mark Recchi, who projects as one of Malkin's linemates.
"Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game, and guys have to find ways to step up. If everybody plays up to their capabilities, the objective [of making the playoffs] becomes that much more realistic."
First Published October 4, 2006 12:00 am