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Kingerski: Penguins Should Pull Back on Malkin & Letang, Sign Rakell, Others Now

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Kasperi Kapanen

Every now and then, I write a column that sticks my neck out just a little farther than I would like. At any moment, the Pittsburgh Penguins could announce spiffy new contracts for Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang that are either an overpay or team-friendly. The offseason and future hinge on those two decisions, as will the bulk of the Penguins’ $23 million salary-cap space.

Yet, I’m going to suggest the Penguins pull back.

After cursory discussions last summer, which went nowhere, the Penguins and GM Ron Hextall made a serious offer to Bryan Rust. He jumped at it.

Similar cursory discussions occurred with Malkin and Letang. We’re now about 19 days to the emotion-fueled swapmeet known as the first day of NHL free agency. The Penguins and GM Ron Hextall are trying to avoid entering Day 1 of free agency with important roster spots to fill.

But maybe that’s not so bad?

Obviously, negotiations have not been easy. The players want more than the team wants to give.

Pittsburgh Penguins Logjam

I’ve learned this first-hand: When you negotiate against yourself, you only win when the other side acquiesces to get it done. For the Penguins, with time running short, it is starting to look like it is time to fortify the other positions and let the primary decisions take care of themselves.

Behind Malkin and Letang is a line of valuable players who also need contracts if the Penguins wish them to continue playing in Pittsburgh. Top-six winger Rickard Rakell, forward Evan Rodrigues, backup goalie Casey DeSmith, RFAs Danton Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen.

Before the Penguins can address the secondary decisions, they seemingly have to make the primary decisions.

…Or do they?

Sign everyone else they want to keep, solidify the team, then deal with the money that is left.

Malkin and Letang are valuable on the ice and pillars of the Penguins’ “family.” They wear three Stanley Cup rings and feature prominently in the organization’s history and highlight reels.

But maybe, just maybe, Hextall should pull back. Let others set the market on his superstars. Let them see if the grass is greener. More importantly, unless a deal is imminent, Hextall could use the time and money to finish the rest of his roster. Make sure the team has an adequate backup goalie. A top-six winger such as Rakell and the depth that a versatile player like Rodrigues can bring.

Oddly enough, as a second-line center, Evan Rodrigues did put up some solid numbers in the first half of the season. As he was shuffled down, his numbers and perhaps confidence tumbled until late in the season. He was one of the Penguins best players in the playoffs and notched a few goals.

We’ve seen Hextall roll with a cheap replacement (Chad Ruhwedel) with acceptable results. As a temporary fallback option … maybe?

Wait too long on Malkin and Letang, those secondary players could bolt. As Dave Molinari wrote weeks ago, it won’t be easy to replace Casey DeSmith. Nor will it be easy-peasy to replace Rakell, who blended seamlessly into the Penguins’ structure.

How many other forwards could score 19 goals and fill the number of positions that Rodrigues filled at such a bargain price?

Believe it or not, the Penguins could be worse off even if they get Malkin and Letang under contract.

July 13 NHL Free Agent Frenzy

In his breakup day media chat, Letang admitted he would let the Pittsburgh Penguins match any offer he received.

Great. Done.

Let’s see what the market will bear. Let Letang stare into the abyss of playing his final seasons on a rebuilding team in a city to which he has no connection. Hello, Detroit? Or a team that can’t break out of the middle, like Dallas.

Or an undesirable place to live. The NHL has a few of those, too. We all have places we wouldn’t live, and no amount of money would draw us there. The suburbs and cities without a good slice of pizza are mine.

Replacing Kris Letang is nearly impossible. But paying him the term and dollars that he wants is also beginning to seem impossible. So, a good look at his options could sway Letang to accept less than he wants.

One winter in Winnipeg would surely make me reconsider my life’s decisions. (Someday, I’ll tell you about three weeks in Grand Forks, ND, and the Hardees, which is 90 minutes south of Winnipeg. Minus-54 degrees).

Anyway …

After a year of negotiations, the Penguins are negotiating against themselves. Maybe Letang can pull $9 million for five years. If he can, God bless, enjoy yourself.

If Malkin can get three or four years at an AAV above $8 million, and his family approves, he, too, can live his best life away from the Penguins.

Let’s see what the market will bear.

Hextall can also see what else is available. What if Vincent Trocheck or Nazem Kadri commands affordable dollars? What if other players become available via the NHL trade market, and the Penguins have a few more dollars to spend?

Both sides have come this far. They might as well look at what is on the other side.

Unlike Letang, whose replacement will represent a step back, the Penguins can improve their second-line center position for less money. The analytics say so. Evgeni Malkin replacement.

Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke has said many times that more mistakes are made at the NHL trade deadline and on the first day of free agency than any other day.

There exists a path from which the Penguins can benefit by letting others make mistakes. If those mistakes don’t happen, the Penguins can get what they want by scooping up their stars on contracts more reflective of the Penguins’ desires.

Fortify depth, and hold to values. It’s a gamble, but it might be the only way to improve the team.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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ric Jefferies
ric Jefferies
1 month ago

Good strategy Dan, I like it.

Dicky
Dicky
1 month ago

Yep. Moneyball time.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

The others, excluding Rakell, underperformed. Erod had a couple good months then disappeared.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Yeah but he’s a hard worker every shift and comes cheap!

Dean
Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

If he is cheap. All day. Cheap is $1m or less

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

A lot cheaper than Malkin. Had 5 points in the playoffs and Malkin had 6. Big difference in salary and hustle.

Dan Dietrich
Dan Dietrich
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

Malkin had an ot Winner playing with trash on his wing. Wake up. Pens will get nowhere close to 71s value if he walks.

DaGama
DaGama
1 month ago

Would love to experience a new, second Crosby Pens era built with more young, skilled, hungry players. Will take more than one off season to form, but a start can surely be made.

Jesse
Jesse
1 month ago
Reply to  DaGama

The problem is that by time we can get a new core, Crosby will not be nearly as good as he is now. If he wasn’t almost 35, maybe it’d be possible

Edgar
Edgar
1 month ago

I agree.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago

If you have Malkin’s and Letang’s demands correct, I would not only let them look, I would be working on replacing them. The Pens will never have enough money to fill in around them to win another cup. Isn’t that what they all play for? Dan, you are part of a group that in my opinion over values Rodrigues. If he could produce those numbers then that is worth some discussion. However, outside of 30 games this season, there is nothing in his pro career that would support that. If the Pens sign him thinking that he can replicate those… Read more »

Cal
Cal
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

Totally agree on Rodrigues. As much as I appreciate the skills Malkin and Letang have shown, chances are better than not that they both regress during multi deal years. Letang had a career year last year, it is unlikely he will do that again to that degree of effectiveness. You may as well add another 1 million to the payroll if you sign Malkin because someone else has to play in his place when he gets hurt as often as he has shown. So if they do sign somewhere else I wish them the best. The replacement players may not… Read more »

Brandon O
Brandon O
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

There’s a lot to like about erods game. It was telling when he was put on Crosbys wing that the players and staff recognize he has a good enough hockey iq and work ethic to play with sid, as only certain guys can. It does seem that his 30 game stretch was fueled by confidence, but the skills are there to become a consistent 35-40 pt player. Fortunately for the pens, him coming back to earth keeps him affordable. I think he is capable of going on another stretch of play like we witnessed and it’d be great to lock… Read more »

Pete
Pete
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

ERod will have more points than Malkin in the next two seasons.

Dan Dietrich
Dan Dietrich
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

Good luck finding someone of 71s value at the rate he gets. Wont happen. The Pens have underpaid there stars their whole career

pete
pete
1 month ago

article is spot on –appreciate your insight

Keith T.
Keith T.
1 month ago

I mentioned this in a FB post earlier this week on the Pittsburgh Penguins page. The Penguins need to give a hard deadline with their best offer and let it ride…… They take it and if not MOVE ON. I would not go past July 5 before that happens. I would even be tempted to trade the rights to the player to get something. There are too many issues that they need to resolve without being held hostage by Letang and to a lesser extent Malkin. They need to move on and make a strategy and not put themselves behind… Read more »

Brandon O
Brandon O
1 month ago
Reply to  Keith T.

It seems like this is the case, and I think part of the reason hex was brought in. If not, they’d have already resigned by now. There have been unsubstantiated reports that the pens have lowballed both players, maybe there is some truth to it and this is indeed the strategy.

Knobman
Knobman
1 month ago

What? Weren’t you one of those that had to have both of these guys signed for near their current AAV and for term?
I’m all for letting them both walk. Thought that there was an unwritten business rule about signing guys long-term at 30+ years old anyway. If the Pens sign these two to high dollar contracts for term, they will be mediocre for years. With some cap money to play with, now is the time to make changes and be competitive for years to come. Hextall will need to some work though, so nothing will probably get done.

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

Thank you Dan! Finally a voice of reason rises from the Makin Letang sagas.

Mark Miller
1 month ago

Dan a great way to keep me interested and subscribed. Looking forward to the Hardee’s story! Great stuff.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

Yes! Sign Rakell now before he tests the market. Liked his look on the Sid line.

JICS
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

Absolutely, Bob!

Tim Curtis
Tim Curtis
1 month ago

Great logic!
I’d never sign Malkin for what he supposedly expects to receive!
($9 million/yr for 4-5 years? Really, Geno?)
I’d make every effort to re-sign Letang, but NOT at 5 years $40 million.
We need a quality (and healthy) backup goalie. We need Rakell and Rodriguez.
Replacing Malkin with Vincent Trocheck makes perfect sense, especially when they can save $4 million/season doing it!. (Colorado will definitely re-sign Kadri.)
The Penguins need to pull the trigger and quit waiting on Malkin!
The future is NOW!

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

No one knows what Malkin and Letang are asking for.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

Yeah and we’ll be lucky if he plays more than a half a season like he did the past 3 years and collects his full salary. Don’t need a repeat of that!

Brandon O
Brandon O
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

There’s no guarantee Rakell will sign cheap to be here. This will be his biggest career contract at 29. He also just had a new baby and him and his family still live in socal. Everything points to him testing free agency to see what possibilities are there for him and his family.

Logan
Logan
1 month ago

Wow Dan I really like this approach.

David
David
1 month ago

I agree with this article. I hope they can keep Letang. Malkin? I don’t think they will offer him what he will want. Maybe I’m wrong.

Aaron Bradley
Aaron Bradley
1 month ago

I thought Rakell was dope, but what about Nichushkin?

Kevin
Kevin
1 month ago

yea make sure you can sign the backup goalie and fourth line winger. The fourth line winger and backup goalie should be the pens priority not three cup stanley cup winner and team leaders, sign the backup goalie. lmao

trackback

[…] Is it time for the Pittsburgh Penguins to stop holding onto the past with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin and sign younger players that can still help them […]

John
John
1 month ago

100%. Their biggest moves are signing their depth Rakell, Desmith, Rodriguez. If Desmith chooses elsewhere then jump on Comrie #2. As for RD RFA DeAngelo ( Cane’s trade with rival doubt it) Oilers could be best trade partner:
Kapanen, Peterson & ’24 3rd
Yamamoto/ Barrie
Puljujarvi is also available & oilers won’t be able to sign either Yamamoto/Puljujarvi with their tight cap + offer sheets are hardly used by opposing teams it’s usually a trade. Could be the depth move Pens need on bottom 6. Hextall needs to have the bat at the ready, not resting.

Uros
Uros
1 month ago

Has someone thought about how other teams have to respect the same salary cap as the Penguins? At those numbers they can wave goodbye to any playoff or cup hopes and sign with a team in rebuild mode. Why would any other team that has any kind of playoff/cup plans invest that much in those guys? It’s not like contenders are looking around for $8-9m cap hit to improve their team. They already have those and if they don’t they might not even be a playoff team. They will sign at a discount because the market demands it or they… Read more »

Brandon O
Brandon O
1 month ago
Reply to  Uros

100% true. But there are exceptions. Washington is looking at 9+ million extra to replace Backstrom. Up and coming teams like nj, detroit and lak have $ to fill some big holes. The rangers have a chance to let their ufas walk and throw $ at a 2c. It seems pld in Winnipeg wants out, move him and they have a huge hole to fill. This is a very intriguing off-season. Some guys will get overpaid but there will be opportunities for a savvy and patient gm.

Guinsfan
Guinsfan
1 month ago

I agree with most of what you said. But thinking you can’t replace Letang is crazy. Guys skate wide and beat him to many times. He can’t get a shot on goal from the point, I would have thought Gonchar would have taught him how to miss hitting a player with a shot. Need to let him go and move P.O. up and get a free agent in that can hit the net with a puck.

trackback

[…] Penguins should hold off on re-signing Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and focus on re-signing depth, Dan Kingerski […]

Alan Smith
1 month ago

Time to let them go! 15 years is enough! They are replaceable with others who don’t cost as much. Their time has come! I love them but 15 million buys some youth and energy!

trackback

[…] the Capitals’ rival Pittsburgh Penguins could look very different next offseason, especially with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang’s […]

Chalkdust
Chalkdust
1 month ago

I like your thinking. Hope the Pens take a look at what players are available in free agency.

William Maloni
William Maloni
1 month ago

Yay you!. Let us know when you hear they listened to your advice?

Timm
1 month ago

My ideal would be: Sign Rakell, ERod, Heinen, and… Letang. Let Malkin go, or shop and maybe he’ll stay for like 6 mill/year.

Maybe instead of looking for another “two-headed dragon”, try to bolster the 2nd line and 3rd lines with some younger finesse players who might really gel with Rakell, ERod, Zucker, or even Kapanen. Zuck and Kap seem like lost hopes, but a Rakell/Kadri/Kapanen line could swarm if the chemistry is there.

I think it would be nuts to let ERod and Rakell go though. And Letang seems impossible to replace given the current options.

Bokono80
Bokono80
1 month ago

You can’t replace Letang. You CAN reshape your entire D into a better unit though.

Pete
Pete
1 month ago

Awesome Dan. It took all year but you have finally come around to my way of thinking!

Tootus
Tootus
1 month ago

Letang has been totally overrated his whole career. Pens won their last cup without Letang playing 1 single minute. He has been overpaid for 7 years and now he wants more. Dump him and rebuild the blue line. Marino needs to go while they can still get something for him.

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Tootus

That is absolutely false. And always count on the letang haters to make an appearance. 58 has been underpaid for years. And underrated while consistently putting up great numbers. And we dont win the 2016 cup without kris letang. He was phenomenal in the playoffs and finals including scoring the cup clinching goal. His game has continued to be consistent with no drop off. He is irreplaceable. And trading marino a young RHD who still has alot of potential? To dump our two top RHD that would be catastrophic. If we keep letang than I understand looking to deal marino.… Read more »

Lars Nelson
Lars Nelson
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

You are correct. A look at Letang’s stats shows he was the 6th best defenseman in the league. Anyone that thinks Letang is bad does not understand hockey. He cannot be replaced by any player that we can afford. You would have to somehow get do it by committee and that is not happening with this roster.We should be trading other D away to free up cap space, but not Marino.

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago

Brian Burke has said many times that more mistakes are made at the NHL trade deadline

And then went out and made one this year…

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago

He was one of the Penguins best players in the playoffs and notched a few goals.

Wha…huh?

trackback

[…] Rickard Rakellzískaná z Anaheimu v termínu výměny, souhlasila s šestiletou dohodou, která přináší platový strop 5 milionů dolarů. […]

trackback

[…] down, the Pittsburgh Penguins reached a long-term contract agreement with another top-six forward.Rickard Rakell, acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline, agreed to a six-year deal that carries a salary-cap […]

trackback

[…] Rickard Rakell, acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline, agreed to a six-year deal that carries a salary-cap hit of $5 million. […]

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