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Analysis: This is When Things Get Really Challenging for Hextall

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang

MONTREAL — OK, that was the easy part for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kris Letang had made it clear that he wanted to stay with them, and re-signing him had been management’s top priority for this summer.

That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t hard bargaining — and some significant concessions — by both sides in the negotiations the yielded the six-year, $36.6 million contract that Letang accepted Thursday.

But Letang and the team had a common objective and found a way to sculpt a deal with terms that were satisfactory to all concerned.

A deal that, per CapFriendly.com, leaves Ron Hextall with $15.3 million of salary-cap space to fill out his roster, which currently has vacancies for a No. 2 center, a top-six winger, and a handful of other forwards.

So all he has to do is figure out how, with that relatively modest slice of cap space, to stock his depth chart with personnel that will allow the Penguins — losers of five consecutive playoff series — to make a serious run at another Stanley Cup.

Really.

Other than that, how did you enjoy the offseason, Mr. Hextall?

With Letang retained, the focus shifts to Evgeni Malkin, the future Hockey Hall of Famer who is less than a week away from reaching unrestricted free agency.

Like Letang, Malkin has insisted that he wants to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And as with Letang, Hextall is adamant that he would like to keep Malkin on the payroll.

Which is pretty much where the similarities end.

Negotiations with Malkin haven’t been publicly contentious — neither side has said much, positive or otherwise, about them — but neither have they been terribly productive.

Of course, the situation could change dramatically if Malkin or the team makes a significant adjustment in their negotiating stance, but there’s little reason to think either party is on the cusp of caving.

Malkin comes at the talks from the position of being one of the most productive and popular players in Pittsburgh Penguins history, Hextall. meanwhile, is operating within the unforgiving parameters imposed by the salary cap.

Hextall spoke with a tone that bordered on stoic resignation while discussing Malkin Wednesday, and left little doubt that he’s contemplating life without him on his second line.

The real question might be, when will Hextall not only come to that conclusion, but begin to act on it?

He has, to this point, prioritized the negotiations with Letang and Malkin, but the Penguins have some valuable contributors who will be eligible to shop themselves around the league on the 13th.

Rickard Rakell was a nice fit on the top-six after being acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline. Evan Rodrigues is versatile enough to fill in at any forward position, up and down the lineup. Danton Heinen chipped in with some timely, complementary offense after being signed as a free agent last summer. Kasperi Kapanen is … well, still trying to prove that he can live up to his considerable potential.

If Hextall waits much longer to aggressively pursue any of those guys that he’s interested in keeping, he runs the risk of seeing them move on. But if he gets some of them under contract, it will further shrink the cap space available to keep Malkin.

Hextall could open more cap space by trading someone from the major-league roster — a left-handed defenseman such as Marcus Pettersson would seem to be the most logical candidate — although he might have taken a chip off the table, albeit indirectly, by re-signing Letang.

Letang and Brian Dumoulin have formed an effective top pairing for several years, although Dumoulin had a subpar season in 2021-22, and the front office and coaching staff figure to be reluctant to break up without a logical replacement for Dumoulin on hand.

All in all, it should make for quite a drama over the next week. Especially once it becomes clear which storyline Hextall has decided to follow.

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Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
1 month ago

Trade Pettersson for a bag of pucks now. Removing his cap hit is worth more than he is as a player.

Ilja
Ilja
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Never change, Dave.

bdgr
bdgr
1 month ago
Reply to  Katz is Dumb

i mean at least throw in a zamboni driver who can play EBUG

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago

Don’t see why you don’t give Malkin his 4×6 deal… hell… give him 6×6 too! Then give RickyRak 6×6… and you still have 3mil. Do it!

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Ujn Hunter

I agree, but I don’t think Malkin will accept it. He was being paid $9.5 million and probably thinks that he is still worth $8-$10 million.

bdgr
bdgr
1 month ago
Reply to  Ujn Hunter

dishing out a lotta term here..

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
1 month ago

As long as i dont have to hear about Jeff Petry any more, all is good

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

If somebody wants Dumoulin I’m listening.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
1 month ago

E Rod and Rakell will have more points than Malkin over the next 2 years.

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Hoffman

Each or combined? If it’s each you’re nutZ…

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
1 month ago

I’d sign Rakell today and let Malkin go to free agent Maybe with him on the list GM’s might look at him and the Pens could grab Trocheck. It’s also possible Malkin doesn’t get the offer he expects and signs for what Hextall offers.

bdgr
bdgr
1 month ago

would love to see more, Rakell. pls give us a full 82 with 67.

Jay95
Jay95
1 month ago
Reply to  bdgr

Definitely. And, though Rakell had a solid season last year, he has a couple of down seasons leading up to this one. Honestly, I don’t think it would take as much as many believe to sign him.

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago

Evan Rodrigues is versatile enough to fill in at any forward position, up and down the lineup.

I keep seeing that written all over…40odd points and only a +3 and after the ZAR trade he was moved down the lineup and failed miserably…

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