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Friday December 14 2018
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In a world of ego, fame and recognition, Geno would rather have another Cup

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In January of this year, a group of hockey “experts” took a stage in Los Angeles and declared to the public the 100 greatest NHL players of all-time.

Overall, nine players who spent time with the Penguins made it, including Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Paul Coffey.

Evgeni Malkin was most noticeably absent.

“I mean it is just a list,” Malkin said.  “I worry about my team.  I worry about winning.”

Yet people took stock in the otherwise meaningless list.  So much so that during the Stanley Cup Media Day at PPG Paints Arena Sunday afternoon, the national media flooded not just Malkin, but every Penguins player and coach with questions of the Top-100 list. 

In the hot-take world we live in, it seems a player’s accomplishments become binding evidence only when ranking or comparing.  To play the game well is just one piece to the puzzle anymore.  Public approval seems to take a certain precedence.  

And while fans have always wanted the extra validation of their team or player standing up against the other greats from different eras in a league that has evolved in so many ways since, it’s become a present-day epidemic in the sports-journalism world, where second-rate feather-ruffling personalities can consume a four-hour television show just to talk about where Lebron James’s baldness ranks among the 1970s Lakers and their hairstyles.

Can’t we just watch the damn game and revel in the greatness when we see it in its most tangible form?

Does Malkin's greatness not stand on its own without the approval of an arbitrary list?

“I don't think so,” said Chris Kunitz.  “When you play the game as well as he does, that’s the only thing that really matters.  He’s one of the best out there.”

The guru of puck, Mike Sullivan has his own list.  Malkin, as you can imagine, is at the top of it.

“I am sure all of these guys are human beings and they all have pride,” said Sully.  “In some way, I’m sure he would have liked to have been part of that esteemed group.  I know that the people around our organization believe that he is.  We’ve made no bones about that.  We value what he brings.  We understand how good of a player he is. His body of work speaks for itself.”

Malkin, who currently has 24 points and seven goals this postseason, is simply one of the best to ever lace up his skates on a nightly basis, list approval or not.  Take it from a guy that once skated with him.

“Geno is a great player.  I loved playing with him,” said former Penguin and current Nashville Predator James Neal.  “He was an unbelievable center, and he still is.  He’s going to, one day be in the Hall of Fame.”

Maybe no other fluid skater like him, Geno has done so much in his 11-year career in Pittsburgh.  Things that only the greatest hockey player on earth as a teammate could possibly overshadow.

Fourth all-time in goal scoring, assists and points for Pittsburgh, Malkin, the three-time Hart Trophy winner created his legend all the way back in 2009, when he led the team with a ludicrous 14 goals and 22 assists, earning the Conn Smythe after his Penguins knocked off the Detroit Red Wings in seven.

“My record is (Stanley) Cups.  If I win one Cup, it is added in my record,” the always-modest Malkin said.  “I don’t think about points.  It is only, for me, the team.  I say let’s win back-to-back.  Not like my points or scoring goals, and that’s it.  I want to win.”

Of all his achievements, Malkin should always be known as the guy who makes the off-puck tough plays.  A guy who will irritate the living hell out of the opponent, screen the goalie, take the licking and get back up and do it all over again.

“When you watch him he’s intense, he gets in the front of the net, he battles,” said Phil Kessel of Malkin.  “He works extremely hard out there, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win.  You want a player like that in your lineup.  He takes a beating in front of the net, but he’s willing to stand there and take it because he wants to win.”

“I think my sense of being around Geno is that his priorities are just trying to help this team win and trying to accomplish our team goals, which ultimately is a Stanley Cup. He’s been a big part of them in his tenure here,” Sullivan said.

If they made a list of the greatest blender hockey players, guys that are stars on the offensive end, yet make the unsung, banged-and-bruised off-puck plays with a roughneck’s work agenda, then Malkin would easily be in the top ten.

But who has time for lists, anyway?  There’s a Stanley Cup to be won.

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