Less than a year ago, Pittsburgh sports journalists were tripping over one another for interviews with Vladimir and Natalia Malkin – the proud parents of Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin. You couldn’t turn on the TV or flip through the Sunday paper without running into a feel-good story about Mrs. Malkin’s famous borscht soup (Evgeni’s favorite pre-game meal) or a harrowing re-telling of Evgeni’s secret midnight escape to America from the shackles of his former Russian team in 2006.
In 2009, “Geno” Malkin was the undisputed king of SOFT NEWS in the Steel City – a territory usually dominated by orphaned puppies and clips of Little League coaches getting pelted in the groin with errant baseballs. After winning the Stanley Cup and the NHL scoring title in the same season, Malkin flew off to Russia for summer vacation this past June as the most revered Pittsburgher since Myron Sidney Kopelman.
But, yoi, how times have changed.
This week, the Tribune-Review’s Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi penned, or I should say pecked, an article titled, “Malkin paid like Crosby; needs to play like him.” Rossi not only criticizes Malkin’s sagging scoring production this season, but finds enough column inches in his statistically sparse article to rip Malkin for using his limited grasp of the English langauge as an “excuse” for ignoring the media.
“Yes, I secret English genius. I make excuse not talk. I want play good. I want score goal.”
Mr. Rossi needs to cool it with the yellow journalism trying to paint Malkin as a sulking, standoffish Jaromir Jagr 2.0.
The sad part is that other Pittsburgh reporters are echoing Rossi’s sentiments. The Post-Gazette’s Ron Cooke recently published a loaded article, “Sulking won’t cure Malkin’s slump,” full of vague comparisons between Malkin and Jagr (summary: they both speak with funny accents and have gone through slumps at one point in their careers. Hell, they’re practically blood brothers.)
But unlike Jagr – who was chased away from Pittsburgh by the pitchfork mob of the Angry White Press – Malkin has never once complained despite playing alongside wingers like Ruslan Fedotenko, who can’t even finish tying his own skates without Malkin’s help this season. And don’t forget Malkin’s brief stint alongside minor league fill-in Chris Bourque, who is literally 5’5” with clogs on and has the scoring ability of a freshman CMU computer science major.
“HEY! I’m telling on you!”
Yet despite playing with substandard linemates and a lingering shoulder injury, you know who Malkin has blamed for his supposedly shameful scoring drought?
Malkin, who is still second on the team in scoring, has placed the blame squarely on his own shoulders at every opportunity. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters in December, “Geno cares deeply and greatly, and he wears it on his sleeve.
One would expect that kind of selflessness from Malkin. After all, he – not Crosby – leads the Penguins in assists with 30 this season. Strangely enough, Rossi leaves out that stat. Instead, he mostly focuses on all the things Sid the Kid does to take the pressure off of his Russian teammate – namely absorbing all the media criticism when the team is slumping – without acknowledging Malkin’s contributions to Crosby’s success this season.
For example, did you know that Malkin has assisted on 10 of Crosby’s 30 goals despite the two not even playing on the same line (outside of the power play)? Or that Geno is averaging a point per game this season, which is a better clip than many superstars in his same tax bracket, like Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lacavalier, Carolina’s Eric Staal, and Montreal’s Scott Gomez.
The title of Rossi’s insinuates that Malkin is being paid more than he’s worth this season (both Crosby and Malkin make $9 million this season). Do you really want to talk about value, Mr. Rossi? Very well then.
Last season, Malkin led the NHL in scoring in both the regular season (113 points) and the playoffs (36). Not only did he lift the Stanley Cup, he also became the first Russian player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe trophy, the NHL’s award for playoff MVP.
Can you even put a dollar value on how much revenue that Stanley Cup run brought in to the Penguins organization and the city of Pittsburgh? The Penguins will reap millions just in the sale of Malkin’s replica jerseys alone. For years and years.
Can you put a price on the thousands of bodies that crammed onto the lawn outside Mellon Arena to watch the playoff games on Mario’s giant projector? How much value did that bring to a franchise that was on the verge of collapse before Malkin’s arrival?
And how much did Malkin’s services cost the Penguins last season? Less than $1 million.
“Talk about a return on investment.”
All of this, at age 22, while travelling hundreds of thousands of miles across North America and Canada for eight months with just a limited understanding of the language being spoken around him.
Think about that for a second. Really imagine yourself in Geno’s shoes. In the endless string of hotels. Watching TV you have to concentrate really hard to understand. Eating room service food that even Americans get sick of. Even during the good times, would you be able to handle it?
Most of us mortals get frazzled when we’re sent to a business conference in Cincinnati. Rob Rossi has to bring along a translation guide every time he ventures outside of Mt. Lebanon.
No offense, Mt. Lebanon.
Unfortunately for Malkin, it’s the middle of January and the media needs to manufacture drama where there is none (remember, the Pens are still in 4th place in the East). Which begs the question – does the Malkin bashing have more to do with his scoring record, or the fact the Steelers took an early vacation?
I could go on for eons about why the stilted, pandering, deadline-centric world of mainstream media beat reporters should make way for unfiltered outlets like Pittsburgh’s own Pensblog and Yahoo’s national Puck Daddy. But why bother when the proof is in the print? After all. the job of a beat writer is to cover daily news, not fuel controversy.
It’s funny that the mainstream media gentry have always slighted blogs for their perceived proclivity for sensationalism, reaction-baiting and aggrandizement.
As blogs become more accurate, reliable and popular than ever, it is ironically the mainstream media that seems to be stooping lower and lower for attention.
If only Malkin could start playing with Rossi’s desperation.