I was shocked this morning while scrolling Twitter to catch up on the endtimes, when I saw this instead:

If you’re not familiar with EP Transfers’ classification system, they call things doubtful, not as a well reasoned judgement on probability, but more when the source is just a casual mention of a possibility. Wise fans know to check the actual story and its sources.

The source is an interview with the sport director (GM) of ZSC Lions, a team in the Swiss NLA. This is the team where Malgin, a Russian raised in Switzerland, famously played with Auston Matthews. The NLA has cancelled their season, so this was a season wrap-up article, and focused on the team’s plans for next year.

The NLA has a cap on import players on a team, but Malgin counts as Swiss, which makes him sought after. After some conversation about the status of ZSC’s foreigners, this was the question and answer (courtesy of Google Translate):

In North America, Denis Malgin and Mirco Müller have expiring contracts. Could you become a topic for the ZSC Lions?I am in contact with the agents. But as I said: If Blindenbacher, Berni and Suter stay, we are actually complete.

And that’s the sum total of the background to this rumour. That’s all we get in the hiatus: a coach saying he’d take a player on his team if he has room and the player wants to play there.

Without knowing if Malgin will get more of this season in a Leafs uniform, what do we think about extending him, and keeping him away from Swiss predation on our players?

Evolving Hockey released their new and improved contract predictions, and it’s now on their site instead of a spreadsheet. They have Malgin, with a very small track record of NHL play, projected to get a two-year deal for $1.6 million AAV. They are now predicting who signs a player, too, and they think the Leafs will extend him.

This all seems plausible. Malgin is an RFA with arbitration rights, and his Qualifying Offer will be $787,500 for a two-way deal.

A good comparison for him in terms of what arbitration rights get you is, amusingly, Mirco Mueller, who filed for arbitration last year coming off an $800,000 deal. He settled for one year at $1.4 million.

Evolving Hockey also brought out a similarity tool, so why don’t we play with that to look at more similar types of players? It spits out the following players as most similar to Malgin with their current season salary:

  • Frank Vatrano - $2.5 million (Florida, LOL)
  • Sven Andrighetto - KHL
  • Evan Rodrigues - $2 million
  • Brandon Pirri - $775,00
  • Brett Connolly -  $3.5 million
  • Alex Nylander - $868,333
  • Frank Vatrano again, Look this is a new thing, it’s got bugs.
  • Andre Burakovsky - $3.25 million
  • Beau Bennett - AHL
  • Pontus Aberg (and that’s why I kept going down the list) - $700,000/

That’s a hell of a collection of tweeners and nearly NHLers. And that raises a question. Is he worth something over a million? Pierre Engvall got two years at $1.25 million, and the question then was: is he so much better than a guy like Aberg or Kenny Agostino who you can sign for less than $800,000 that they’re worth having?

I have a mixed feelings about that. Signing someone like Engvall or even a new guy like Malgin gives a team continuity. If they are good guys who bring a work ethic every day, and that’s certainly true of Engvall, they’re good to have.

But that’s not a good enough reason to overpay them. And Engvall isn’t overpaid if he can legitimately maintain value as more than a fourth liner. The same goes for Malgin. The fact they’re 23 and not 25 or 26 isn’t really very significant.

For a cap-strapped team, you almost want to see the Leafs say no to players like this, to keep that big gap between the depth paid at around the minimum salary and Zach Hyman’s modest salary. If the Leafs start filling in with a lot of double the minimum salaries, if they end up with a fourth line that costs $5 million or something like that, they are eroding their top nine quality in ways that might be unwise.

On the other hand, we’ve seen this season what happens when the guy who gets moved up to the top line out of necessity is a bargain basement signing.

There’s no right answer. There is no one true path to NHL success, and you are always guessing about the future value of players. Sometimes you get it wrong. And while small mistakes can pile up, they’re easier to get rid of. So the risk is pretty low with Engvall or with Malgin.

I don’t think ZSC is getting him back yet. What say you?