Evgeni Malkin's MVP season might be the first of many

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin won his first Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player Wednesday night.

Yes, first.

Because even on a team with Sidney Crosby, Malkin has the ability to stand out. Even in a league with Crosby and Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux and so many other stars, Malkin could win the Hart again – maybe even should win the Hart again. The way he's training, the way he's talking, he seems more committed, confident and comfortable than ever before, and that has already made a great player even greater.

View gallery

.

Evgeni Malkin won his first Hart Trophy, but more will surely follow. (Getty)

"I hope it's not last one," said Malkin after the NHL Awards, standing behind a table packed with hardware – the Hart, the MVP chosen by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association; the Ted Lindsay Award, the most outstanding player chosen by the NHL Players' Association; and the Art Ross Trophy, which goes to the NHL scoring champion.

At another point, he added: "I love this sport. I like my team. I want to be best next 10 years."

That ought to make the rest of the NHL shudder. The Penguins lost in the first round of the playoffs this spring, and this is a salary-capped league of parity in which an eighth seed just won the Stanley Cup for the first time. But the Penguins were the favorites heading into the playoffs for a reason, and they are the favorites heading into next season. The sports book at the Wynn Resort and Casino has them at 7-1 odds, best in the league.

No team is a sure bet, but no team is a better bet than Pittsburgh.

"Every year it's different," said Malkin, who turns 26 at the end of July. "Sometimes Crosby have injury. It's tough. But if all players healthy, we have great chance to win."

Crosby came back late in the season, but he had missed most of the previous year-and-a-half with concussion and neck problems. He wasn't totally himself. His teammates had to adjust to his return. They opened up defensively in a goals-galore series with the potent Philadelphia Flyers, and instead of covering up for their mistakes as he did in the regular season, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury exacerbated them.

[Related: Complete NHL Awards voting breakdown]

The Penguins need to improve their defense. They need to solve their cap crunch, with Crosby and Jordan Staal scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next July 1, and Malkin the following year.

But Crosby is likely to sign a cap-friendly long-term deal. General manager Ray Shero has said he wants to sign Staal, not trade him. And Malkin wants to stay, not go somewhere he can hog the spotlight. He doesn't just want to be the best for the next decade. He wants to be the best in Pittsburgh.

"I hope they sign me, too," he said.

Imagine if the Penguins have their three elite centermen – Crosby, Malkin, Staal – all healthy and ready in training camp for the first time in forever. The Penguins can be better defensively than they were against the Flyers, especially if they don't have to adjust to a Crosby comeback. Fleury can be better than he was against the Flyers, especially now that he has a backup, Tomas Vokoun, who can assume some of the workload in the regular season.

View gallery

.

Malkin wants to remain in Pittsburgh, arguably giving the Pens the two best players in the game. (Reuters)

Now imagine if Malkin continues to play at an MVP level. Good luck. In a league where talent is so evenly distributed, it is an incredible advantage to have arguably the game's two best players along with Staal, Kris Letang and company. Listen to Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward.

"My job is to play against [Malkin] when we play Pittsburgh …"

Bergeron laughed.

"Well, or Sid."

One theory is that Malkin rose to the fore because of Crosby's absence, and there is truth to that. Malkin's numbers historically have been better when he has had the responsibility and opportunity to be the No. 1 guy. But the key here really wasn't Crosby's absence. It was Malkin's.

"It wasn't necessarily that we didn't have Sidney Crosby," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "It was, I think, that [Malkin] was really motivated to come back and help our team, and he knows, feels, that him at an elite level is a big part of the success of our team."

[Also: Brian Campbell becomes first defenseman to win Byng in 58 years]

Malkin missed most of the second half of the 2010-11 season and the playoffs because of torn knee ligaments, with Crosby already out. Malkin rehabbed and wanted to come back in the playoffs. Bylsma said he had never seen him more motivated. But the Penguins lost in the first round to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Malkin went home for the summer.

This was a player who had won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, who had won a scoring title, a Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, a Stanley Cup, and who had been a runner-up for the Hart – twice. But he admitted to himself, as he did to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that he was "lazy before."

And he decided not to be lazy anymore and to reach an even higher level. Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar traveled to Moscow and worked with Malkin for two weeks in the off-season. He came to camp in top shape. He dominated the league much of the 2011-12 season.

View gallery

.

Malkin and the Penguins came up short in the playoffs, but it wasn't for lack of effort. (Reuters)

Though he wasn't his best in the playoffs – trying too hard at times and taking penalties, not making enough of an impact at others – he still produced three goals and eight points in six games. Then he went to the world championships and dominated again, winning the tournament MVP award as Russia went 10-0 and claimed gold.

The best part: He's still hungry. Bylsma said Malkin is doing even more this summer. Kadar is working with him in Moscow for a full month.

"He's a bully on the ice," Bylsma said. "He does it with speed. He does it with finesse and hands. But he also does it with power. He goes through and around, and I think he's motivated by a lot of things. He wants to be a great player. He wants to help our team. And I think that motivation right now, it's going to be there for a long time."

Don't discount Malkin's comfort, either. He came from Magnitogorsk, Russia, unable to speak much English. He lived with teammate Sergei Gonchar as a rookie. He learned the language watching TV with Gonchar's daughter, Natalie, and Gonchar translated for him.

Malkin is still low-key by nature, still shy in front of cameras, still no orator in English. He spent most of his wild Vegas days relaxing by the pool and hanging out with friends. When he accepted the Lindsay Award, he read from a prepared card and stumbled over his words.

[Related: NHL Awards photo gallery]

But he has a better grasp of English now. He even has a Twitter account. He is more at ease in a starring role. And when he accepted the Hart at the end of the evening, he joked that he had lost his prepared card and spoke from the heart. He seemed much more natural as he dedicated the trophy to Gonchar, with whom he has remained close, even though Gonchar moved on to the Ottawa Senators two years ago.

After the show, he laughed about how far he had come – and hinted again about how much farther he expects to go. He remembered how bad his speech was when he accepted his first Art Ross in 2009.

"I think this year a little bit better," he said with a laugh. "Maybe next year a little bit better, too."

He said "next year" casually, as if there were no doubt.

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Sandusky, Ohio: Proud city fights off an adverse double meaning
Cristiano Ronaldo only 12th-best player in world, sniffs Barca president
Fantasy baseball video: Rookies on rise in stock watch

  • When Bosh steps up, Heat reap benefits

    When Bosh steps up, Heat reap benefits

    In Miami, it's called the Big Three for a reason. LeBron James was stellar for the Heat in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against Charlotte, and Dwyane Wade helped save the game with a steal to deny the Bobcats a chance at … More »

    AP - Sports - 9 minutes ago
  • Court tosses ex-Oklahoma State player's conviction

    Court tosses ex-Oklahoma State player's conviction

    Oklahoma's criminal appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Oklahoma State basketball player accused of sexually assaulting two women at an off-campus party in 2010. The Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday reversed the conviction … More »

    AP - Sports - 10 minutes ago
  • Nishikori reaches quarterfinals at Barcelona Open

    Nishikori reaches quarterfinals at Barcelona Open

    BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori reached the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open by beating Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-0, 6-4 Thursday. … More »

    AP - Sports - 4 minutes 18 seconds ago
  • Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Repeat offenders, Lady Byng and overtime thrillers

    Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Repeat offenders, Lady Byng and overtime thrillers

    [Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever … More »

    Puck Daddy - 44 minutes ago
  • F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges, says he was blackmailed as trial opens

    F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges, says he was blackmailed as trial opens

    MUNICH - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial Thursday in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport, telling a Munich court that he was blackmailed by a German banker who received a disputed … More »

    The Canadian Press - 45 minutes ago
  • F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges

    F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges

    Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial Thursday in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport, telling a Munich court that he was blackmailed by a German banker who received a disputed $44 … More »

    AP - Sports - 46 minutes ago
  • Pineda says he'll learn from ejection for pine tar

    Pineda says he'll learn from ejection for pine tar

    The pine tar glistened on Michael Pineda's neck, improving his grip and inviting trouble. The Yankees' right-hander spoke quietly after being ejected in the second inning of the Red Sox' 5-1 win over New York on Wednesday night. And less than two … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 4 minutes ago
  • Phelps launches comeback in 100m fly

    Phelps launches comeback in 100m fly

    Returning to swimming after a 20-month retirement, Michael Phelps is easing back into the sport he once dominated by racing one of his best events. The 18-time Olympic gold medalist will swim the 100-meter butterfly at the Arena Grand Prix on … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 5 minutes ago
  • Quiros, Dyson share lead at China Open

    Quiros, Dyson share lead at China Open

    Alvaro Quiros and Simon Dyson each shot a 5-under 67 to share the lead after the first round of the China Open on Thursday. The pair were a stroke ahead of a group of six golfers that included defending champion Brett Rumford of Australia and … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 10 minutes ago
  • Radwanska rolls into Stuttgart quarters

    Radwanska rolls into Stuttgart quarters

    STUTTGART, Germany (AP) -- Top seed Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Italy's Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-2 to book her quarterfinal place at the Porsche Grand Prix on Thursday. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 10 minutes ago
  • Everest climbing season in disarray after deaths

    Nepal's attempts to salvage the Mount Everest climbing season fell flat Thursday as major expedition companies canceled their climbs and many Sherpas quit the mountain after an avalanche killed 16 of their fellow guides last week. While the season … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 21 minutes ago
  • Comcast's Fandango ticket service buys MovieClips

    (Reuters) - Fandango, a movie ticketing service owned by cable company Comcast Corp, is buying MovieClips from Zefr Inc to boost its film-related content. MovieClips, launched in 2009, licenses movie scenes from various studios, puts them up on … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 43 minutes ago
  • No rest for weary Atletico as Valencia trip looms

    No rest for weary Atletico as Valencia trip looms

    By Tim Hanlon BARCELONA, April 24 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid must put their Champions League ambitions to one side when they look to maintain their surprise La Liga title surge in a tough trip to Valencia on Sunday. They are on the verge of … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 7 minutes ago
  • Dyson enjoys happy return to China, shares lead with Quiros

    (Reuters) - Englishman Simon Dyson, who was handed a suspended two-month ban for cheating in December, fired a five-under-par 67 to grab a share of the first round lead at the European Tour's China Open on Thursday. The Englishman fired six birdies … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 16 minutes ago
  • Formula One boss denies bribery at German trial

    Formula One boss denies bribery at German trial

    By Keith Weir MUNICH Germany (Reuters) - Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone denied bribery allegations on Thursday when he went on trial in Germany in a case that threatens to break the Briton's decades-long dominance of the motor sport. … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 16 minutes ago
  • Ajax extend ban on fans travelling to Feyenoord games

    REUTERS - Ajax Amsterdam have extended the ban on their fans attending away league games against arch-rivals Feyenoord in Rotterdam following the riotous behaviour of supporters in Sunday's Dutch Cup final. It ends hopes that a five-year suspension … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 17 minutes ago
  • Guan, 15, getting used to spotlight

    One year after his stunning debut at the Masters, Chinese 15-year-old golfer Guan Tianlang is growing accustomed to being in the spotlight. The teenager's star has risen quickly in China since his breakthrough at Augusta National, where at the age … More »

    AP - Sports - 2 hours 20 minutes ago
  • Bolton Wanderers to rename the Reebok stadium

    (Reuters) - Bolton Wanderers will change the name of their Reebok stadium to the Macron from July as part of a new deal between the Championship club and an Italian sportswear manufacturer. It will be the first change of name for the second tier … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 27 minutes ago
  • Protesters rally against FIFA president Blatter

    A handful of protesters holding banners and placards demonstrated peacefully Thursday at an event with FIFA president Sepp Blatter to highlight the plight of migrant workers building stadiums in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Blatter was a guest at … More »

    AP - Sports - 2 hours 28 minutes ago
  • Golf-Dyson enjoys happy return to China, shares lead with Quiros

    Englishman Simon Dyson, who was handed a suspended two-month ban for cheating in December, fired a five-under-par 67 to grab a share of the first round lead at the European Tour's China Open on Thursday. The Englishman fired six birdies and a lone … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 41 minutes ago
  • Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

    Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

    Dirk Nowitzki addresses the media following the Game 2 win over the Spurs. … More »

    NBA.com - 2 hours 45 minutes ago
  • Hanyu determined to build on success of Sochi

    Hanyu determined to build on success of Sochi

    Yuzuru Hanyu has barely had time to dwell on the Olympic and world titles he won in the first quarter of 2014, yet he's already thinking about how to improve for next season. Hanyu became the first Japanese man to claim Olympic gold in figure … More »

    AP - Sports - 3 hours ago
  • More teams withdraw, Nepal's Everest season in jeopardy

    By Gopal Sharma KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Several foreign climbing expeditions have called off attempts to scale Everest following an avalanche that killed at least 13 local guides, meaning Nepal faces an entire season without a single ascent of the … More »

    Reuters - 3 hours ago
  • No clubs facing FFP European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs facing FFP European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs can expect to be expelled from European competition next season for breaking financial fair play rules, UEFA president Michel Platini said in an interview on Thursday. UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) policy, designed to stop clubs … More »

    Reuters - 3 hours ago
  • No clubs facing European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs facing European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs will be kicked out of European competition next season for breaking financial fair play rules, UEFA president Michel Platini said in an interview on Thursday. UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) policy, designed to stop clubs spending more … More »

    Reuters - 4 hours ago
  • Fast-breaking Real home in on elusive 10th European crown

    Fast-breaking Real home in on elusive 10th European crown

    By Tim Hanlon BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid took a step closer to an elusive 10th European Cup with a 1-0 home win over Bayern Munich on Wednesday and the Spanish side will hope to finish off the job in Germany having shown how effective they … More »

    Reuters - 4 hours ago
  • Schalke aiming to seal Champions League spot

    By Karolos Grohmann REUTERS - Schalke 04's season could have a happy ending at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday when they hope to claim a Champions League spot after a rollercoaster campaign punctuated by injury problems. Schalke, who … More »

    Reuters - 4 hours ago
  • Sturridge hopeful of returning against Chelsea

    Sturridge hopeful of returning against Chelsea

    REUTERS - Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is optimistic of returning from injury for the key clash against former team mates and title rivals Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday in a boost for the Premier League leaders. "Hopefully this weekend I'll be … More »

    Reuters - 5 hours ago
  • Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real

    Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real

    Holders Bayern Munich promised a sharp improvement when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after failing to convert the lion's share of possession into goals in a 1-0 defeat in Spain on Wednesday. Bayern … More »

    Reuters - 5 hours ago
  • Be optimistic about Brazil, says Blatter

    Be optimistic about Brazil, says Blatter

    By Stefanie McIntyre HONG KONG (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has encouraged fans to be optimistic that the World Cup in Brazil will be a success, amid growing concerns over security and public unrest as workers scramble to finish stadiums … More »

    Reuters - 5 hours ago
  • Announcer relishes role as voice of Kentucky Derby

    Announcer relishes role as voice of Kentucky Derby

    From his perch with a panoramic view of the world's most famous racetrack, the new voice of Churchill Downs will sit out one of the most anticipated moments of the tradition-soaked Kentucky Derby. Larry Collmus will try to tune out ''My Old … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real Madrid

    Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real Madrid

    By Karolos Grohmann REUTERS - Holders Bayern Munich promised a sharp improvement when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after failing to convert the lion's share of possession into goals in a 1-0 defeat in … More »

    Reuters - 6 hours ago
  • Wednesday's Sports In Brief

    BOSTON (AP) -- Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected for using pine tar less than two weeks after appearing to get away with using a foreign substance in another game against Boston, and the Red Sox beat New York 5-1 on Wednesday night. … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Flyers lack punch at home on power play

    Flyers lack punch at home on power play

    Back on their home ice, the Philadelphia Flyers fizzled on the power play. The Flyers ranked 25th in the NHL in power-play efficiency at home during the regular season, scoring on 15.1 percent of their chances. In Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the New … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Lions welcome new faces at minicamp

    Lions welcome new faces at minicamp

    Their new coach has been to Super Bowls and the Detroit Lions how have two new players who have championship rings. Free-agent acquisitions Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo - who played on the winning side of the last two Super Bowls - finished their … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Iowa's offense looking to match defense

    Iowa's offense looking to match defense

    Iowa's defense was back among the nation's elite last season. The Hawkeyes' offense failed to follow suit. Getting both units to play at an equally high level will likely be crucial to Iowa's hopes of competing for a Big Ten West title. The … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Mike Trout robs Bryce Harper with impressive diving catch

    Mike Trout robs Bryce Harper with impressive diving catch

    One phenom robs another. … More »

    Big League Stew - 6 hours ago
  • Stars even with Ducks after 4-2 win in Game 4

    Stars even with Ducks after 4-2 win in Game 4

    The young Dallas Stars keep overcoming early 2-0 deficits. With their latest comeback in Game 4, they are now even with the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks. Down in the series after losing the first two games in Anaheim, the Stars trailed by two goals in … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 hours ago
  • Jets returning to SUNY Cortland for training camp

    The New York Jets are holding training camp at SUNY Cortland again this summer, returning to central New York for the fifth time in the last six years. The team trains on the school's campus, located about three hours from the Jets' facility in … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 hours ago
  • Road teams off to fast start in playoffs

    Road teams off to fast start in playoffs

    Here's the list of teams that had home-court advantage entering the opening round of these NBA playoffs: Indiana, Miami, Toronto, Chicago, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. Here's the list of teams that still held … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 hours ago