MONTREAL — The Pittsburgh Penguins are running out of time to re-sign Evgeni Malkin before he qualifies for unrestricted free agency Wednesday at noon.
And while the Penguins have a few other players — Rickard Rakell and Evan Rodrigues among them — in similar situations, Ron Hextall said Friday that serious talks with them essentially are on hold until Malkin’s case is resolved.
“It’s like putting a puzzle together,” he said. “Until you get another piece in place, it’s really hard to find your direction. Hopefully, we can lock (Malkin) in and then kind of go from there. See what we have left (in salary-cap space), and then work from there.”
He added, though, that “we’ve kept open lines with all of our UFAs.”
Hextall also said he would like to open additional salary-cap space — the Penguins have about $15.3 million at the moment — in the next few days by trading someone from the major-league roster, but acknowledged there’s no guarantee that it will be possible.
“It’s easier said than done,” he said. “There’s not a whole bunch of teams that are looking to add salary.”
Both sides in the Malkin negotiations have expressed a desire to work out a deal, but there’s no indication that a settlement is near. And no certainty that one ever will happen, especially since neither salary nor contract length appears to have been resolved.
“We’re working away,” Hextall said. “Keep chipping away, see if we can find common ground for both sides. We’d certainly like to.”
Wanting to reach an agreement and actually doing so are not necessarily synonymous, however, and Hextall did not suggest that he believes striking a deal with Malkin is inevitable.
“I wouldn’t say, ‘confident,’ ” Hextall said. “I wasn’t confident in Kris (Letang re-signing) the day before, either. That’s kind of how these things work. … We’ve said right from the start that we’d like to bring (Malkin) back, and I strongly believe that he wants to come back.”
Malkin’s expiring deal carried a team-high cap hit of $9.5 million. That figure clearly has to drop in any future contract; the issue is how far.
What sort of pay cut Malkin is willing to accept might well determine how the issue plays out. Two high-profile teammates with expiring contracts, Bryan Rust and Kris Letang, accepted relatively team-friendly deals after saying that keeping the core of the roster intact was important to them.
“Everybody knows the cap situation now,” Hextall said. “The players probably know as well as anybody. They have worked with us. They want to stay with the Penguins and keep this group together. … I think everybody on our team thinks that we have a good team.”
With Letang under contract, Hextall’s focus figures to shift up front, where the Pittsburgh Penguins have a number of vacancies on their bottom three lines.
“You can see clearly that we need a couple more forwards,” Hextall said. “I feel pretty comfortable with our defense, but we do need a couple more forwards.”
Whether they’ll try to bring back Danton Heinen and/or Kasperi Kapanen, both of whom are restricted free agents with arbitration rights, to fill any of those holes is uncertain. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to extend a qualifying offer to those two before the deadline Monday to retain their rights.
“Those decisions haven’t totally been made yet,” Hextall said. “We have some ideas, obviously, about what we’re going to do, but some of it depends on what happens between now and (Wednesday).”
The Penguins’ personnel outlook will remain hazy until sometime after the Malkin situation is resolved, but getting Letang, Rust and No. 2 goalie Casey DeSmith re-signed is bringing things into focus a bit.
“Things are starting to have a little bit more clarity,” Hextall said. “But we’re not there yet.”