Ron Hextall’s Monday had a similarity to the final scenes of The Godfather. Hextall settled all Pittsburgh Penguins family business on Monday in a methodical yet brisk fashion. First, they decided not to qualify Danton Heinen but deliver a QO to Kapseri Kapanen. Then news broke that the Penguins would not meet Evgeni Malkin’s demands, and he will test free agency. Hextall moved forward to sign Rickard Rakell to a six-year contract.
Someday and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me…
After signing Rakell later Monday night, the Penguins have just over $10 million of cap space remaining and a few more spots to fill, including 2C. They don’t have enough money to fill their shopping needs properly, so expect some salary dumping asap.
The surprising (to some) news on Monday, despite some rosy reporters, was that Malkin balked at the Penguins’ last offers. PHN cannot confirm the last offer, but on Sunday, we reported Hextall had resisted adding a fourth year.
Update: Minutes after the original post, Dave Molinari of Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported that Evan Rodrigues will test free agency. The move is neither surprising nor unwarranted. He did the same last season and quickly signed with the Penguins. While his 19 goals were impressive, his increased opportunities due to injury would be limited next season. It’s best for both parties to see the market will bear.
Malkin Analysis: Malkin has not been able to stay healthy. Head, shoulders, knees, and toes. At 36 years old, he’s facing the end sooner than later. That’s the health situation.
The on-ice situation is muddled. He’s a brilliant hockey player still capable of things that only a few others can do. The health situation keeps him off the ice for 15-20 games per season, which has increased over the last two seasons.
His health will limit him, if not now, soon. Father time will also further chip away at his game. Lastly, the NHL is moving towards a speedy, north-south game. The creativity is done at full speed and full speed ahead.
Malkin’s even-strength numbers were pedestrian last season. Only 22 of his 42 points were 5v5, and he was a minus-10. Ouch.
By comparison, potential free-agent replacement Vincent Trocheck had 39 of his 51 points at even strength and was a plus-21. Cut Trochecks numbers in half to create a similar sample size to Malkin, and he scored just three fewer points at even strength, but the Penguins would have a plus-20 goal differential with Trocheck.
That’s HUGE. That’s a 40-goal difference over 82 games.
On that fact alone, a four-year offer was far too much for Malkin. The Penguins were wise and well within their rights to say “nyet.” PHN can confirm this has been an emotional process for Malkin. Sources from multiple angles, without directly citing emotion, have referenced the stress felt by Malkin.
Has that been a factor?
Maybe a team like the Detroit Red Wings or LA Kings…or a Metro rival splashes the cash, which the Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn’t dare. It’s not the end of the world if either side continues without the other. It happens. In the grand scheme of life, it is not that big of a deal. He’ll still be friends with Sidney Crosby, regardless.
Rackell Analysis: Rakell is a known quantity. His fit into the Penguins system was both seamless and successful. A $5 million price tag is exactly where he should be, and six years is a long term but not overly so. He’ll always have trade value. It’s not as risky as the handwringers say. It’s perfectly fair, which at this stage of the game is a win for the Penguins. I think he could have gotten a touch more on the market as some team would have overpaid.
He had 13 points in 19 games (4-9-13) and would have been a difference-maker in the Round One series against the New York Rangers if he were not elbowed in the head during Game 1.
At least the Pittsburgh Penguins got a two-minute power play, eh?
Kasperi Kapanen/Danton Heinen Analysis: I would have been far more tempted to use Kapanen as trade bait than to qualify him. If they go to arbitration, Kapanen could soak up $3 million…or more? He had a terrible season, but I suspect most arbitrators aren’t PHN commenters nor living on Penguins message boards. They look at the totality of the career, usage, projections, current salary, and sometimes they just make it up.
Heinen was a nice player. He finished his chances. He didn’t create a lot of chances. Heinen is a poor man’s sniping winger, and a few million for him would have been an overpay. The Penguins need to be a little harder to play against–something Hextall noted at the draft–and Heinen doesn’t fit that bill.
Hextall Grade: A-
Ice cold, but that’s what wins championships.
Getting Letang, Rakell, and Rust under affordable contracts is substantial work. He got a steal in the first round of the draft, as even rival teams praised the Owen Pickering pick.
He also held the line at an appropriate position with Malkin. My gut feeling is that past GMs would have caved, and the Penguins’ future would have been harmed.
Everyone wanted Evgeni Malkin to return, but it can’t be under the player’s terms. Hey, most of us have changed jobs and companies several times in our lives. Being a Pittsburgh Penguins player isn’t a lifetime appointment.
Kapanen is the decision that could burn Hextall, but with such a low qualifying offer, he kept his chip in hopes that he could salvage the asset. If he gets Kapanen at a good number, the grade goes to an A+.