Posted 10:32 AM ET | Comments 12
I play "adult league" hockey with a good friend who I met back in 1998.
One day back in early 1999, my friend and I were talking before one of our games and he said that he was interested to see who the Pens would take in the upcomming draft. He told me that Greg Malone lived "next door" and he had been trying to find out what the teams draft plans were. My friend told me that he "thought" the Pens might draft Greg's son Ryan, if he was still around after a few rounds.
As it turned out, the Pens 1999 draft class was not a very good one. Names like Koltsov, Murley and Caron (the first 3 picks) are probably only remembered by Penguins fans...and none of them have made any kind of a real dent in the NHL since then.
But in round 4, with pick number 115, the Penguins took a chance on a hometown kid named Ryan Malone.
Malone would get his first chance to play for the Pens in the 2003-04 season. He would go on to score some memorable goals in his rookie year (22 in total) and was easily one of the fans favorites.
Hometown kids that get a chance in the "bigs" almost always are.
Over the next 3 and a half years (2 and a half seasons...there was a nasty strike in there somewhere), the Pens would watch Malone see-saw back and forth from playing great hockey to sometimes being too much of a bystander.
Then, about halfway through this past season, everything seemed to fall in place for Malone. Playing with Petr Sykora and Evgeny Malkin on the teams top line (while Sidney Crosby was injured) Malone finally found the consistency in his game that everybody was hoping for.
And through a great playoff run...that ended 2 wins shy of a Stanley Cup, Malone continued to show his value by scornig 16 points in 20 games and leading the way as a physical presence among the Penguins forwards. Who can forget how he got hit in the nose with a puck in game 5, leaving the ice with blood rushing from his face...only to return to the game and play a key part in an triple OT victory that was one of the best games in cup finals history.
Certainly, Ryan's performance during the second half of the season and the playoffs has made him a very attractive player to a lot of clubs, as he approaches unrestricted free-agrency on July 1st.
So that makes this a tough time for Malone (he will be 29 in December), Penguins GM Ray Shero and the FANS of the Penguins.
Malone must make a decision about his future...and the very real possibility that he will play hockey somewhere besides his home town next year. He has to try and balance any offer he might get from Ray Shero to stay here (with a hometown "discount"?) with higher offers he's likey to see from other clubs that need a big skilled forward who plays with a lot of heart. At 28, he has to realize that THIS is his chance to make some good money so that his life after hockey is taken care of.
If I could get both sides in a room I would emplore them to "find a way" to keep Ryan here.
From everything I have seen of Malone, I get the feeling he won't be quite the same player on another team.
That's not a knock on him...just a feeling I have.
And from Shero's point of view, I don't think the Malone we saw in the second half of the season and through the playoffs is very easy to replace. If we can have THAT guy back for a few more years, it might be worth it to pay him a little more than you like.
Plus, I have a good feeling about a Stanley Cup with Penguins names on it in the near future.
It would be a shame if one of those names wasn't Ryan Malone.