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Molinari: Have Opinion on Keeping 71, 58? Hextall Shouldn’t Care

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NHL Trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ron Hextall

Whether the Pittsburgh Penguins should re-sign Kris Letang and/or Evgeni Malkin has become a subject of ferocious debate for the team’s fan base.

There are lots of conflicting opinions, all presented with abundant passion.

Some believe that keeping both, at almost any price, is essential; others feel it is time to move on from them, to focus on the future. And then there are those who think that one of the two is indispensable, while the other is expendable.

Ron Hextall, of course, has made it clear that he would like to retain both — but only under contracts that he thinks would preserve enough salary-cap space to allow him to finish assembling a Stanley Cup-caliber roster.

That is a most daunting challenge, considering that the Penguins haven’t won a playoff series since 2018 and that core players like Sidney Crosby, Letang and Malkin are in their mid-30s.

Hextall, of course, knows all of that, and those factors helped to shape the offers that have been extended to Letang and Malkin. He probably also is aware of the public’s diverse opinions about how far he should be willing to go to retain them.

And he probably doesn’t care.

Nor should he.

Hextall’s mandate is not to please the public — or any particular segment of it — but to construct the best team he can while operating within the constraints of the cap.

If Hextall is able to do that, the vast majority of the franchise’s followers will not care about the finer points of how he made it happen.

And if he can’t, he should be more concerned about how the decision-makers at Fenway Sports Group will react than he is about how distressed the fans might be.

*** It surely is scant consolation to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they aren’t the only NHL club facing some tough negotiations and painful personnel decisions this offseason.

That list, not surprisingly, is headlined by the teams that won the past three Cups.

Tampa Bay, the champion in 2020 and 2021, already is about $5.1 million OVER the $82.5 million cap ceiling for 2022-23, per CapFriendly.com. And that’s without re-signing Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta.

Lightning officials already have asked veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has a no-trade clause and four years left on contract with an average annual value of $6.75 million, about teams to which he would be willing to accept a trade. And he will not be the only prominent player the Lightning will try to shed before next season.

Colorado, which won its first Cup since 2001 last Sunday, is in a challenging spot, too. The Avalanche has about $26.5 million in cap space, which sounds good — until you see the list of high-profile contributors whose contracts are expiring. Nazem Kadri, Josh Manson, Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky are in that group, and there are quite a few others in line to be paid.

It could be worse, of course. At least the Lightning and Avalanche just played for a Cup; Vegas, which hasn’t gotten close to a title since making it to the Cup final in 2018, already is about $2.6 million above the ceiling and has a number of players who need new deals.

*** Remember when San Jose was considered one of the best-run franchises in the league? Yeah, that was quite a while ago, and it doesn’t seem to be changing.

It’s bad enough that the Sharks are on the hook for long-term contracts with aging players like Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but evidence of dysfunction has persisted long after those deals were negotiated.

It was apparent as recently as Thursday night, when coach Bob Boughner and his assistants were informed that they were losing their jobs. There’s nothing wrong with replacing coaches — NHL teams do it with rather stunning regularity — but to fire a staff two months after a season ends, which means those coaches have very limited opportunities to seek work elsewhere is a sign of a rudderless operation.

*** There was no mention of rookie games when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ preseason schedule was announced a few days ago, although Hextall has said in the past that he prefers those to sending a squad to a prospects tournament, as the Penguins did for years when Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford were GM.

*** Cody Ceci, a popular target of public derision while playing in Ottawa and Toronto, revived his career with a strong performance for the Penguins in 2020-21, when he worked on a one-year deal that carried a cap hit of $1.25 million.

It was enough to earn Ceci a four-year, $13 million contract from Edmonton last summer, and nothing happened during the past season to make the Oilers second-guess their investment.

His offensive output was relatively modest — five goals and 23 assists in 78 games — but Ceci logged an average of 20 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time, which was second only to Darnell Nurse (25:03) among Edmonton defensemen. His total included an average of 2:34 of shorthanded work per game.

Ceci also was second on the team in blocked shots (121) and fifth in hits (117).

*** There is fierce resistance in some quarters to the idea of the Pittsburgh Penguins retaining Casey DeSmith, who is about to qualify for unrestricted free agency, as Tristan Jarry’s backup.

Why so many object so strenuously isn’t clear.

When a team operates near the cap ceiling, as the Penguins consistently do, it generally doesn’t have the resources to prioritize a goalie who’s expected to appear in 20-25 games.

What’s more, if the Penguins are to have any chance of seriously contending for a Cup in 2023 — and that doesn’t seem to be a particularly realistic objective, at least at this point — they will need to have Jarry playing at his very best.

If he’s unavailable, for whatever reason, a backup goalie — no matter who it is — simply isn’t going to perform at the level the Penguins would need to win four series.

*** With the NHL draft scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Montreal, this is a good time for a reminder of how difficult it can be to project the career trajectory of even the most talented teenaged players.

Witness the 2017 draft, when Nico Hischier (New Jersey), Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia) and Miro Heiskanen (Dallas) were the first three players selected. No. 4? That would be Cale Makar, who didn’t do much during the past season except win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

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Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

The reason some fans are against re-signing DeSmith is pretty obvious…when they needed him most two years in a row in the playoffs he was not available. Whether they they can find someone better at a reasonable price is the question.

Rich FILARDI
Rich FILARDI
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

Exactly, reliability is kinda important.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Rich FILARDI

So why is Jarry considered to be The Man then? #ZeroPostseasonSeriesWs

djr5899
djr5899
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

I think DeSmith is fine, and the difference between him and 90% of the other backups available is marginal. However, I do have some concerns about his injuries. He ended this year with core muscle surgery, and word is that was also his injury at the end of last season, other side of his body. A goalie with core issues is some cause for concern, and could end up being “Jagr’s groin” 2.0. LOL

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Just during the most important times.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Well said Dave. Jarry was hurt also, I might add, why no outrage.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

Ding-ding-ding-ding!

Justin
Justin
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

I like Desmith a lot, he’s almost the perfect backup but I’m on the fence about bringing him back as well. His stats are excellent for a backup goalie but he’s been unavailable the last two playoffs because of what seems like the same injury. It’s a very hard decision to make but I think Im leaning towards taking a chance on someone else to fill his role.

Kurt Hartz
Kurt Hartz
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

They can definitely do better than Desmith in my opinion, and Letang also, if they love the city and the state then they would make it happen, Letang needs to do a team friendly contract at the very minimum knowing his team is in a bind with the cap and who knows maybe they can be rewarded in the future for their sacrifice and proving they were team player’s.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago

Dave, you appear to be focused on the symptoms versus the cure In my opinion, the team has 3 things they have to fix to be a real contender. The second line. They can do that with or without Malkin. Goaltending. Based on history, they need a healthy number 2. I like the debt they are building at this position and barring injury Lindberg will be equal to or better than DeSmith at number 3. The D. They need a better mix of offensive forwards and larger shutdown defenders that can play penalty kill. With Malkin at a reasonable AAV:… Read more »

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

And what exactly makes Copp a legit 2nd Line Center? Guys like Copp, Trocheck will cost you 7-8 million per year and for the last time Malkin is not moving to wing. Furthermore can you Dean or anybody else explain to me how moving Malkin to wing is better? Guys like Matheson and Pettersson are not getting traded due to length of there contracts. For the Pens to move 1 or both of those guys they would have to take back a similar contract. Why is it that there are so few Smart Penguin Fans and more dumb Penguin Fans… Read more »

Pete
Pete
1 month ago
Reply to  Vittorio

Ummmmmm, because he doesn’t play defense.

Pete
Pete
1 month ago

We need a BIG D man to clear the net and to keep punks like Marchand and Trouba from sucker punching our guys. MAF and Jarry would be sweeeeeeeet!

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Pete

We had that with Erik gudbranson and Jack Johnson. And the fan base blamed them for everything! Slowing down the rush. Dragging down the blueline. Everyone wanted speed and skill. Now everyone wants size and toughness again lol.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Go figure. Fickle group

J1234
J1234
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

There are defensemen that are big fast and skilled. Small and skilled does not work anymore.

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  J1234

Really small and skilled doesnt work?? Lol cale makar 5’11 187 adam fox 5’11 180. The last 2 norris winners! So I’m not sure what your talking about. But small and fast are dominating hockey. And big and fast who?? And could the pens afford them ?? The answer to both is NO AND NO! So wishful thinking my friend come back to me when you have done more research!

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Who’s small? Avalanche? They’re big hockey players that are in shape and can skate. Makar’s over 200 lbs and skate circles around Letang? Oilers and Avalanche Superstar Centers got over 30 lbs on Sid and skate circles around him. You experts better learn sizes, ages and skill levels of players in league. Then you might make sense in your statements.

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

Makar is 187 that’s his listed weight. And my statement makes perfect sense you penguins haters might want to try and pick a new team. Try the leafs! Why dont you go look at the listed height and weight of the avalanche and oilers. Than come back. The avs are the fasts team in the league. And yes have some size. Makar is 5’11 187. But erik Johnson is big 6’4 they have some size but mostly they are skill and speed. But you claiming the avs and oilers players all have 30lbs on Crosby is a joke! No one… Read more »

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

You asked a question who’s small. Well next time take the time to read my comment. I never specifically said the avalanche were small. They have size skill and speed. That’s why they won the cup. Not every team has the players the avs do. But small skilled fast defenseman are dominating hockey and that’s a fact. Cale makar listed height 5’11 weight 187. As for the centers for the avs and Oilers having 30lbs on Crosby that’s false and untrue. McKinnon 6’0 200 Crosby Crosby 5’11 200 are practically the same height and weight. McDavid is smaller than Crosby.… Read more »

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  J1234

You must be a real hockey fan. You probably played sports in your life. Same team, same core and leadership can’t win in four years? A series? Getting older, slower and softer will make a difference? Yinzers don’t care. I can only imagine what kind of condition their in?

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

These yinzers idiots don’t realize or care that this team is a couple years away from being the Blackhawks team. Getting older and softer. They can’t win a playoff series and keep bringing back same players. Rangers, Islanders and Caps are laughing at this organization. We can’t beat those teams. They’re getting younger and bigger every year.

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

Well the islanders are not laughing they were at home this year. The caps are getting old as well. So I dont think we will become like the Blackhawks mess. We still have plenty of players in their mid 20’s to either build around. Or as trade assets for the future. So the cupboard is not bare. And every year this team is supposedly done. And every year they get 100 pts and make the playoffs. If not for unfortunate injuries at the wrong time. They beat the NYR. And I liked our chances to beat Carolina as well. So… Read more »

Penguinfan
Penguinfan
1 month ago

Rather he cares or not, it shouldn’t affect his decision

David
David
1 month ago

Sign Letang, offer Malkin what you can, and leave it up to him. Go after a back up goalie.

Last edited 1 month ago by David
Bob
Bob
1 month ago

Betcha they sign Letang for 8 million which will take at least 25% of their cap space..

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

Make that a third of it. Crazy!

Pete
Pete
1 month ago

3 at 6.5 or see ya!

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

As you stated, I’m sure Hextall could care less what fans think. They shouldn’t release or trade players to satisfy anyone but the owners. The problem with this lineup is you have a limited amount of money because of the Cap. If you have too many $5+ million players it shows up as bargain players to fill out the roster. Unfortunately if you have, lets say 6, high paid players, they can’t cover the inferior players. Ypu end up with castoffs, reclamation projects, and minor leaguers not ready for primetime. So the obvious question is what can you get with… Read more »

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