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UFA Option: Marek Malik

Marek Malik is coming off a season that was both very bad and very good. Malik was a whipping boy for many Rangers fans, for many perceived sins; a lack of physical play, risky turnovers, and bickering with the coaching staff. I highly doubt he'll return to the Rangers, particularly after a highly public dispute with Rangers' coach Tom Renney. In addition to various injuries, Malik was a healthy scratch repeatedly. Glen Sather reportedly shopped him at the trade deadline, but evidently the price was too steep, because he couldn't find any takers.

Despite all these problems, the numbers say that Malik was an effective defenseman when he did play. He averaged 16:20 at even strength, 2:39 shorthanded, and 0:14 on the powerplay. According to Behind the Net, Malik played the most difficult minutes of any Rangers blueliner, and despite this finished with a +/- of 7. When he was on the ice, the Rangers averaged 2.99 GFON/60, and allowed only 1.63 GAON/60. Malik also had nice numbers on an excellent penalty kill, with the team allowing 4.94 goal/60 with him on the ice 4-on-5.

What about the accusations that Malik is soft, and prone to giveaways? Unfortunately, all we really have to work with statistically is what RTSS provides. Prorated over 82 games, Malik had 53 giveaways, 78 hits, and 88 shot-blocks. 53 giveaways would have ranked Malik 5th on the Oilers, behind Staios, Gilbert, Pitkanen and Grebeshkov. Even that is exaggerating, because if we prorate Matt Greene's and Sheldon Souray's totals over a full season, they also surpass Malik's. The 78 hits would have been only 3 back of Steve Staios (good for 3rd on the Oilers). The problem here is that people expect Malik to destroy opponents because of his size, but that simply isn't his game. He is effective, but not punishing. 88 shot blocks would have been 4th among Oilers defensemen.

I haven't seen much of Malik since he signed with the Rangers, but I do remember him well from his time in Vancouver, when he paired with Ed Jovanovski. My dad is a big Canucks fan, and I live in B.C., so I saw quite a few games. Jovanovski was a "chaos" defender, an incredibly talented player, but never quite the sum of his parts. I would describe his defensive zone coverage as sloppy and his decision making as erratic. He looked much better playing with Malik, because Malik played a very safe, clinical game. He used his incredible reach to limit his opponent's opportunities, he wasn't afraid to hit, and he could clear the crease. As I recall, the big knock on him was that there wasn't much offensive upside, and he was never a physically punishing player. But he's always been effective- we aren't talking Tom Poti here.

I imagine that by this juncture I've given away that I've always liked Malik; I'm a big fan of quietly effective players who are consistently underrated. Malik stabilizes things, he takes on the best players from the opposing team, and succeeds, and he would be an excellent partner for a high caliber defenseman who cheats to offense. The other thing about Malik is that he isn't going to be looking at a big contract. He may even wind up taking a cut from his 2.5 million dollar salary this year. All things considered, I think Marek Malik is a player of interest to the Oilers.