PITTSBURGH ( Associated Press) — Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall wants Evgeny Malkin and Chris Letung to find a way to stay with the club for the rest of their careers.
“In an ideal world (Malkin) a penguin would retire,” Hextall said Monday. “And I think Tanger is the same.”
In an ideal world, anyway.
That’s hardly the NHL in the age of pay-limits.
Perhaps that’s why, when asked by Hextall, what was missing from a group this season, which allowed a 3-1 lead to go down in the first round to the New York Rangers.He joked “a little more cap space would be great.”
He is not getting it.
The Penguins have habitually spent the cap limit during a hugely successful era led by Malkin, Letang and longtime captain Sidney Crosby. That “spend to win now” approach isn’t going to change, with Fenway Sports Group now signing checks after buying the club from Ron Berkeley and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. last fall.
The question, however, is how much money the Penguins are willing to pay to offer a pair of 35-year-old franchise icons less than two months from first entering free agency.
Letang seems to have hardly missed a step. The defenseman is coming off a season in which he amassed a career-high 68 points while playing a little more responsibly at his own end. He averaged a staggering 25:47 on ice time and said he wanted to play at least five more seasons last week.
Letang is also completing a contract that paid him $7.25 million per season. Considering his fitness level and his output, it is reasonable to think that he will make a slight hike in the open market, although Letang said last week that his priority would be to find a way to live. in Pittsburgh.
Malkin feels the same way, but his situation is worse. He said last week “good players sign good contracts” and that while he has scored 20 goals this season despite missing almost half a year while recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, he has been in 5-on-5 situations. were not particularly effective. Earning $9.5 million. He also turned 36 in July and has missed at least 10 games due to injuries nine times in his last 10 seasons.
Hextall insisted that he would not give details about the nature of the team’s interactions with Malkin and Letang, but indicated that he had no concerns about their age.
“They are both great athletes,” he said. “They’ve both been here for a long time. They’re both performing at a high level right now. We’d definitely like to have them in the mix in September.”
Malkin and Letang’s respective positions are the two biggest pieces of a very cumbersome puzzle that Hextall has to piece together over the summer. Forwards Evan Rodrigues, Brian Boyle, Ricard Rickell and backup goaltender Casey Desmith are set to become free agents, while forwards Denton Henin and enigmatic Kaspari Kapanen are banned free agents.
Hextall closed one piece of the puzzle, pushing Brian Rust to a six-year deal over the weekend Which will keep the versatile two-time Stanley Cup winner in the fold until 2028. Rust, who scored 24 goals and 34 assists this season, recently underwent a minor procedure on one of his knees called hextall, but must be well prepared before training camp.
By then Hextall will have clarity about his team’s near future. He believes he has over its immediate past, praising the Penguins for their resilience during an eventful season that included extended absences by Crosby and Malkin and a COVID-19 outbreak. Pittsburgh managed to extend its playoff streak to 16 straight years, the longest active streak in major North American professional sports.
Yet the Penguins have not made a first round exit since 2018. This is not standard for a team that plays in an arena with five Stanley Cup banners hanging from the ceiling.
The six-month tenure of the FSG, including at the front office, is in no hurry to make drastic changes. Hextall, who took over in February 2021 following the abrupt resignation of Jim Rutherford, looks like he will have a chance to guide the team at least early in Crosby’s Hall of Fame career.
“Everything is good,” said Hextal. “(Fenway Sports Group) is absolutely committed to winning. … We have a few things we’re looking at in terms of adding in staff and stuff. We’re following along.”