With Evgeni Malkin out, what now for Pens?
"I'm sorry," read the text message.
It was from Evgeni Malkin to Penguins GM Ray Shero.
"I told him he had nothing to apologize for, geez," Shero told ESPN.com on Saturday in the wake of devastating news for the NHL club. "I feel so bad for him."
Malkin has a torn MCL and ACL and is likely out for the season. Shero said the Pens would seek a second opinion in the next week or so in the slim chance rehab alone can do the trick, but odds are season-ending surgery will be needed.
If there's any possible silver lining, it's that the Pens now have cap savings from Malkin's $8.7 million eventually coming off the books. With that space, they can try to find some offensive help before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
"The positive is that this happened today and not March 1," Shero said. "From that standpoint, we have time to react between now and Feb. 28 if we need to do something."
Shero would not speculate when asked which names are on his radar; the Malkin injury was still mighty fresh Saturday.
One would assume the Pens will look at UFA-to-be Jason Arnott in New Jersey, but I also think they won't limit their search to centers. Any top-six forward will do. Once superstar center Sidney Crosby returns from his concussion, the Pens still have a terrific 1-2 punch at center with Crosby and Jordan Staal. A winger may fit the bill just as much as a center.
And while a UFA-to-be rental is the more preferred option, I don't think it will necessarily stop Pittsburgh from looking at players under contract past this season. Why? Because the Pens would have all summer to get back under the cap.
Of course, now that Malkin is likely out for the season, the focus shifts more than ever to Crosby, who left the team this weekend to spend some time with his parents as he continues to recover from his concussion. The $8.7 million question since he went down early last month is, when will he be back?
"I don't have a timeline," said Shero. "I know he's feeling better. Until he's symptom-free, there's not much we can say. The good news is that there's plenty of time for him to come back and make a contribution this season. But, at this point, we just don't know when he'll be back."
Just how long Crosby remains out, and what kind of player he is when he returns, greatly affects the Penguins' Stanley Cup chances, especially in the wake of Malkin's injury. Twitter was littered with the same reaction from fans of all teams Saturday: Now more than ever, Philadelphia is the team to beat in the East.
I wouldn't count out the Penguins just yet. They've played real well without Crosby over the past month. If he can return with enough time to fine tune his game before the playoffs, all is not lost.
But let's not sugar-coat the situation. You just don't replace Malkin. Because of that, the Pens' chances aren't the same now as they were before Friday night. Those are the plain facts.