Penguins 'don't have any interest' in trading Evgeni Malkin

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Count me among the observers who wondered if this wasn’t finally the offseason that the Pittsburgh Penguins studied the merits of moving Evgeni Malkin.

The idea behind it, shared by others, was that perhaps the current model -- devoting so much cap space to three or four players and the rest of the roster filled with too much mediocre talent in some areas -- hasn’t worked now for a few years.

Just too top heavy?

Is it not time to re-distribute the cap money more evenly and improve the depth among good players, even at the expense of one great one?

I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just asking the question.

And Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford answered it Tuesday: He is not going to go there. The idea of Malkin moving is not going to find life in the Penguins’ front office.

"We don’t have any interest in that," Rutherford told ESPN.com when asked about trading Malkin. "Our core players are Sid [Crosby] and Geno, and [Kris] Letang and [Marc-Andre] Fleury and [Patric] Hornqvist. And we feel very strong about that core. But we have to continue to have complementary pieces to those players in order to have a better chance to play into June."

It is true, and important to point out, that the Penguins’ late-season slip down the standings and five-game knockout in the opening round of the playoffs by the top-seeded New York Rangers also coincided with the club missing three of their top four defensemen, Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Olli Maatta.

Say what you want, but I’m not sure how many teams could thrive without three of their top four blueliners.

"It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact," said Rutherford. "Excuses are if you have your full team and you’re trying to explain something that’s not there. The fact of the matter is, we were without some very good players. I felt really good about our players and how we competed in the New York series. I know we only won [one] game but the games could have gone either way with great goaltending at both ends. Our guys had a chance to win. And nobody will know if we had one of those three defensemen, two of those guys, or all three of those guys, if it would have been any different. But I think we all feel we would have had a stronger chance."

Still, healthy or not, I ask again, is it prudent to have a model where, if my math is correct, about 44 percent of the team’s salary cap is tied up by its top four players (Crosby Malkin, Letang and Fleury)?

Easier said than done, I know, trading a star player and getting fair return, especially one like Malkin who has a no-trade clause.

No matter, because Rutherford is not going there with his top four players. They’re staying put, he said.

"I’m comfortable with our core and we’re going to continue to go with them," said the GM.

"These are four impact players that we need. Hopefully I can do a better job of finding the proper complementary pieces to go with them."

Well, that’s indeed the challenge again this summer, just as it has been for a few seasons now, even before Rutherford arrived on the scene last summer.

The top core guys may stay put, but tweaks are coming elsewhere on this roster.

"We are an organization that’s fortunate that we have some good young players that are ready to play. So we’re going to have to factor that in," said the GM. "We’re going to have to factor in the cap. We’re also going to have to do what’s been tried here for a few years but add one or two wingers, at least one each for Sid and Geno that are good fits for them. Good skilled wingers. That’s going to be the toughest part. Because I don’t think those guys are available in free agency."

That means the trade route and Rutherford certainly isn’t shy about making deals.

But he’ll need cap room. Whether it is the likes of Rob Scuderi or Chris Kunitz or Brandon Sutter -- I’m just throwing names out there off the top of my head -- but there are some members of the supporting cast that are going to go.

Change is coming in Pittsburgh, just perhaps not in the form that many of us thought might be possible.