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Molinari: Pay Letang & Malkin for Future, Not Past, Contributions

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It’s not news to the Pittsburgh Penguins — or any other NHL club — that the business of hockey can be as brutal as anything that happens on the ice.

Oh, there aren’t ligaments shredded or bones broken during contract negotiations, but there can be plenty of hurt feelings and bruised egos.

That’s because players and their agents tend to have a firm sense of what the player is worth, while the front-office representative with whom they are negotiating is charged with working out a deal at the lowest possible cost.

Not necessarily because the team official gets any satisfaction out of low-balling an employee, but because every dollar saved on one player is a dollar that can be invested in another.

Collect enough of those dollars, and a club just might be able to retain — or add — a guy who could be a difference-maker in a bid to qualify for the playoffs or win a Stanley Cup.

It is against such a backdrop that the Penguins are trying to work out contracts with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin that would allow those two to finish their pro careers where they began, a rarity in today’s NHL.

While the sides haggle over money and length of the deal, there is at least one thing on which all concerned can agree: The profound and positive impact both players have had on the franchise.

Malkin joins Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Jaromir Jagr as the top four players in Pittsburgh Penguins history; Letang ranks the club’s finest all-time defensemen, and is the best who — unlike Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy — did not spend significant time elsewhere.

Malkin and Letang have six Stanley Cup rings between them, and both have created some breathtaking memories. What they have accomplished in the past cannot be disputed.

It also cannot be a significant factor in the negotiations that are in progress.

The hard truth is, contracts have to be based on what a player is expected to contribute over the life of that deal. They are not lifetime-achievement awards or a thank-you for services rendered in the past.

There is no room for sentimentality in a league with a hard salary cap. If a team wants to honor a player for his previous contributions to the franchise, it should do it with a banner or a statue, not a contract.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins are intent on keeping Letang and Malkin, they should do it because they believe both can do more to help them contend for a Stanley Cup, on a return-on-investment basis, than anyone who could be acquired to replace them.

Letang has emerged as the Penguins’ priority target, presumably because there aren’t many right-handed shots qualified to play on a No. 1 pairing available on the market these days.

Few guys out there can match Malkin’s body of work, either — he’ll be delivering a Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech one of these years — but he missed half of last season because of major knee surgery and put up just 22 even-strength points in 41 games after returning.

Also, he’ll turn 36 July 31, so it’s fair to question how long he’ll be able to perform at produce near the level he’s reached in the past.

Now, the Penguins’ contract proposals shouldn’t be based solely on statistics — be it points or ice time or something devised by the Analytics Dept. — because intangibles are part of the formula for a winning team, too. It can’t be overlooked that Letang and Malkin serve as alternate captains, at least in part because of their leadership.

Why the Pittsburgh Penguins would like keep Letang and Malkin is apparent; the issue is how much they should be willing to spend to make it happen.

At the moment, Ron Hextall has about $23.2 million available to finish assembling a roster for 2022-23, and ownership appears to have given him carte blanche to determine how to spend that money.

His plans are not known, since Hextall has not spoken publicly about the negotiations with Letang and Malkin — or anything else — in more than a month, but it seems unlikely that he’ll allow emotion to play a role in the talks.

At some point– perhaps sooner than later — Hextall figures to deliver a take-it-or-leave-it proposal to both players, and either finalize an agreement or move on to the numerous other challenges before him this summer.

Harsh? Perhaps. But the business side of hockey really can be brutal. And a franchise that lives in the past can’t expect to have much of a future.

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Pete
Pete
1 month ago

Absolutely! Right on. Perfect.
If they overpay on these two contracts they can hurt the club for years. I believe Rackell and even ERod will have more points than Malkin over the next 3 seasons. They have been paid well for services rendered in the past. They WILL NOT perform at the same level over the next three years. Hope Hex sticks to his numbers. 3 years MAX!

David
David
1 month ago

I agree. That being the case, how much is Malkin worth? Will he all of a sudden put injuries behind him? Or will be continue to play 60 games a year? He is the type of player that could get old fast. He will be 36 going into 2022-23. I cannot see him performing at a high level at 39 or 40. I hope he surprises everyone. But $6 Million per year tops. And there is probably no way he will sign for that. Letang is different.

David
David
1 month ago

Lost in all of this is the fact that the Pens have the 8th MOST cap space available in the NHL, with $23 million and change. https://www.spotrac.com/nhl/cap/ Their problem is signing both of them. Even some of the teams with little cap space could sign one of them. As far as the Craps are concerned, they have only $7M cap space available, so to sign Malkin they would have to make some trades and/or dump some salary, to offer him much more than the Pens are likely to offer.

Web1350
1 month ago
Reply to  David

If Backstrom retires and Schultz isn’t resigned, there are many millions of dollars available to the Caps. That doesn’t include any other players not signed OR Tom Wilson being out for an extended time where they can use money allocated to him. So, the Caps may not be in a bind.

Marc Badger
Marc Badger
1 month ago
Reply to  Web1350

are you implying a ovi-geno line!? yikes, that would be wild!!! malkin to the caps would initiate a chain reaction of chaos; probably.

bdgr
bdgr
1 month ago
  • Pure speculation, but tanger on a 5x$9M NMC 3-years similar to the rust clause. Thoughts ?
Justin
Justin
1 month ago
Reply to  bdgr

Im not sure about 5×9 I was thinking 5×8.5 MAX, but 9 mill a year wouldn’t shock me for him on the open market it’s just the term that’d blow my mind with that cap hit. And I’m pretty sure that Rust doesn’t have any NMC whatsoever.

bdgr
bdgr
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin

Ehhh, Rusty inked a 6x contract with a no movement clause in the first three seasons. GMRH is publicly eager to sign #58; maybe a number pushing $9 milli is the hold up. Tick, tick tock.

Tootus
Tootus
1 month ago
Reply to  bdgr

He’s not worth 9 and Hextall won’t give him more than 3 anyway

RYAN
RYAN
1 month ago
Reply to  bdgr

That is the dumbest idea ever.

Dominick
Dominick
1 month ago

Not a fan of the honor them with a banner statement. A banner will not provide them with generational wealth, they should be seeking the most financial security as they can possibly negotiate as they have to begin thinking about life after hockey. Both are Hall of Fame caliber players, both are arguably better or as good as any other impending free agent, they will sign for plenty of money, even if not in Pittsburgh. All this to say, Pittsburgh should make an honest effort, the fans would rather see Malkin and Letang finish their twilight with Crosby than any… Read more »

Guinsfan
Guinsfan
1 month ago
Reply to  Dominick

Fans want to see them finish the twilight of their career together, your wrong. No fan wants to watch 2 players that have slowed considerably in a game that gets faster each year.

Pete
Pete
1 month ago
Reply to  Dominick

LOL. If the don’t have financial security from their last contracts then they are idiots.

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

Great read. Not a mention of how much they are “owed” because of previous albeit fantastic accomplishments. I never agreed with that logic.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Could not agree with you more. Both players have ALREADY been paid for what they had done. And that income was lucrative by any standard. I am not begrudging them that. But the hard facts are that neither is going to be able to duplicate the past . . .. or if they do it will be year to year and it is highly unlikely that there will be many more “years” in that “year to year.” Not a criticism at all, but simply acknowledging that a player can only go up and down the ice and take nightly hits… Read more »

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