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Malkin's Heart Stays in Pittsburgh

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

From the moment he stepped onto the ice for his first game as a Penguin back in October 2006, Evgeni Malkin fell in love with the city of Pittsburgh.

Reflecting on his favorite moment from his first seven seasons here, Malkin said, “I think my first year when I came, I saw how people liked me and how people are happy to see me here. I remember my first game when I stepped on the ice and everyone stood up and started clapping for me. My heart pushed me so hard. It’s an unbelievable memory.”

Malkin has done so much for his beloved city and the franchise in the years since, his biggest accomplishment coming when he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009 – being named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP during the title run. And now, he has the chance to make many more memories in the city and with the team he loves so much.

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Malkin and the Penguins agreed to terms on an eight-year contract extension on Thursday (the deal cannot be made official until the first day of free agency on July 5 due to the CBA). The contract begins with the 2014-15 season and runs through the 2021-22 campaign, and has an average annual value of $9.5 million (a raise of $800,000 from his previous deal, which had a cap hit of $8.7 million).

“(Malkin) made it very clear, which I was happy to hear, that this is where he wanted to play and if we could possibly make it work, he would love to sign an extension,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “He certainly has, like all our players and all of us, room for improvement. But he’s 26 years old and I believe his best days could be ahead of him. So really, really happy to have him under contract, a huge part of our franchise. It’s a good day for the Penguins and Evgeni and his family. Look forward to having him back and continuing to improve upon his game on and off the ice.”

That being said, while Shero hoped that Malkin wanted to stay here long-term, he wasn’t certain if the superstar center felt the same considering a number of factors. So the first thing he did after the season ended was ask, as Malkin’s current contract was set to expire at the end of next season and negotiations could begin this summer.

“I think with players like this, when you’re trying to enter into a long-term agreement with this sort of money that ownership is committing, the first question I always ask is ‘do you want to be here?,’” Shero explained. “I’m not sure if Evgeni Malkin at this point, after being here this long, would prefer maybe to try somewhere else and be the guy. Maybe the grass might be greener or whatever the case may be, or push his luck in free agency to see if he can the highest-paid guy as a free agent.”

Thankfully, it never came close to coming to that. Shero got the answer he had hoped to hear, a resounding ‘yes’ – and it resulted in Malkin and the Penguins agreeing to terms on his new contract.

Malkin’s agent and the Penguins began talking as soon as the playoffs ended June 9 about getting a deal done before he returned to his native Russia for the summer. They negotiated the terms and finalized the details within a few short days, and he agreed to the contract shortly before heading to the airport to fly home on Thursday.

“The last few days we were hard at work on my contract,” Malkin said. “And today I know I’m staying because we signed the contract. I thank my agent and I thank the whole organization. They really want me to stay here. I’m so happy.

“I like this city. It’s good for hockey. I like the fans. I have a house here and all of my friends here. But it’s good for me. I like the team here. It’s a good team. I hope we win the Stanley Cup.”

Malkin has already been in the NHL for so long and has already put together such an impressive career that also includes a Hart Trophy (MVP – 2012); two Art Ross Trophies (scoring champion – 2008, ’12); Ted Lindsay (outstanding player as voted by peers – 2012), Calder Trophy (rookie of the year – 2007) and 560 points in 458 regular-season games that it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that he is, like Shero mentioned, just 26. Malkin and fellow superstar center Sidney Crosby won their first Stanley Cup four years ago when they were just 22 and 21 years old, respectively.

With Malkin locked up for the next eight years, he and Crosby, who is signed through the next 12 seasons, will be the team’s franchise centers for the rest of their careers. And moving forward, Malkin believes that he and Crosby can and will lead their group to another Stanley Cup.

“We’re still young, you know?,” Malkin said. “We’re a group who won the Stanley Cup before and I believe we will win again. Because it’s good people, good guys. Every day we work hard in practice. Unbelievable players and someday we will win again.”

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