MONTREAL — Just like that, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall, who wasn’t even expected to speak after the NHL GM meetings at a Montreal hotel Wednesday, dropped a bombshell about defenseman Kris Letang that’s sure to please many Penguins fans but cause debate, as well.
Hextall confirmed the swirling speculation that Letang is close to signing a new contract.
“I’d be surprised if we don’t get it done,” Hextall said, with his back literally to the wall outside of the meeting room.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dave Molinari was part of the media throng that intercepted Hextall, and recorded the video below.
Letang, 35, is a week from unrestricted free agency, which begins on July 13.
The contract is widely expected to be for three or four years, and $8 million seems to be the most often-mentioned average annual value. Last season, Kris Letang finished in the top 10 of Norris Trophy voting (7th) his third top-10 finish in the past four years. He also finished among the leaders in scoring by defensemen with 68 points (10-58-68).
“I can’t say (it is close with Malkin),” Hextall said, his body language conveying his lack of optimism. “We’re still working. We spoke to him as recently as last night. We’ll see where it goes.”
Initially, reporters were told that Hextall would not speak until before the first round of the draft Thursday at the Bell Centre. However, he was intercepted as he was leaving the GM meetings.
Additional Hextall Quotes:
Hextall was also forthright about the process with other unrestricted-free-agents-to-be, including Rickard Rakell. Will the Penguins exhaust the process with Letang and Malkin before attempting to sign Rakell and others?
“We’re certainly more comfortable doing it that way, but as we get closer to the date, we have to look at everything and try to make the pieces fit,” Hextall said. “I can’t say we’ll wait for everybody. That’s how we started out. When we get down to that hour, we’ll make some decisions.”
Hextall also confirmed that the limited quality on the UFA goalie market helped to convince them sign DeSmith to a two-year contract:
“Yeah, you look at the market, there’s not a lot out there. Casey is a pretty good goalie. He’s played well for us. He’s well-liked. He fits in well. It was a bit of a no-brainer for us.”
Hextall acknowledged that the Pittsburgh Penguins are unlikely trade up in the draft, but trading down is a possibility.
“We don’t have a lot of ammo to move up, so I can’t imagine that happening,” he said. “If anything, we’d move back.”