Bryan Rust understands that he might have made more money if he hadn’t re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That had he explored unrestricted free agency this summer, some other club might have proposed a deal that dwarfed the one he agreed to with the Penguins Saturday.
“There was a point in time (when he considered pursuing free agency),” Rust said Sunday. “Obviously, there are things you may sacrifice. … Where we came to a settlement point was definitely somewhere where we could be happy with the deal.
“Who knows what else could be out there? But we can definitely be happy with the deal that was done.”
Rust accepted a six-year, $30.75 million contract, which carries a $5,125,000 salary-cap hit. That’s up from $3.5 million on his expiring deal.
“This is a number we’re really happy with,” he said, adding that having a longer-term contract was important to him.
Rust plays a solid two-way game. He’s sufficiently skilled to work on the No. 1 power play and two top lines, and defensively responsible enough that he was added to the penalty-killing corps — a role he regularly filled earlier in his career — during the stretch drive and playoffs.
He has developed into a consistent 20-plus goal-scorer — Rust had 24 goals and 34 assists in 60 games in 2021-22 — and has meshed nicely with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel on the No. 1 line, his most frequent niche in the lineup.
What the team around him in 2022-23 will look like remains to be seen, with franchise fixtures Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang atop a long list of players eligible for free agency this summer.
“I would love to have those (two) guys around,” Rust said. “We’ve been teammates for a long time. I love those guys.
“As a player on this team, obviously, we’d love to have those two guys back. They’re two unbelievable players. They’re two probably Hall of Famers.”
Malkin and Letang have spent 16 years each with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and are among the longest-serving players in franchise history. Rust has been with the team for just eight, but if he stays here through the end of his new contract, he will be near the top of the all-time list.
“The opportunity to have that happen, it’s cool,” he said. “A lot of pride comes with being able to say you played with one organization for most, if not all, of your career.”
Rust’s contract agreement coincided with a celebration of his son’s first birthday party, which attracted a number of family members and friends to his home.
“Pretty much as soon as that was starting to shut down, we finalized the deal,” he said. “So it turned from the first birthday party into the celebratory party. We kind of took that and ran with it.”
Ran, he might have added, right back to the place he clearly never wanted to leave.