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I’M READY BOTH WAYS: Malkin, Penguins Sound Like They Know It’s Over

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PIttsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, NHL Trade

The pending free agents of the Pittsburgh Penguins core did not strike an optimistic tone. Nay, it was not only the opposite of optimism, it sounded like a regretful concession to a coming reality. Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust spoke to the Pittsburgh media and fielded the obvious questions about their contract status, their hopes, and what comes next.

Evgeni Malkin probably said it best.

“I’m ready both ways…If I stay, I’ll be much happier,” Malkin said in his nearly 10-minute chat.

Editor’s note: there is some disagreement if Malkin said “ready both ways” or “ready to go away.” After initial publishing and staff consultation, we believe he meant “both ways.”

The tone was consistent. Kris Letang wants to stay. Bryan Rust wants to stay. Even Rickard Rakell felt he could take his game to the next level if he could stick around.

Yet it’s May 18. Letang, Rust, and Malkin have been pending free agents since July of last summer. It’s been 10 months since GM Ron Hextall said Letang and Malkin were top priorities. After initial conversations last summer, some of which PHN can confirm were cursory and not substantial, there has been little to no movement.

Sportsnet reporter extraordinaire Elliotte Friedman broke some news in his latest 32 Thoughts podcast when he reported that Letang and the Penguins were miles apart. The Penguins and Malkin agreed to a three-year deal, but not money.

Thoughts of the boys taking big hometown discounts evaporated on Tuesday. Malkin harkened back to his joke in January to make a point.

“I believe I’m still a good player, and I believe good players sign good contracts,” said Malkin. “If I say I’m a rich guy doesn’t mean I deserve a $1 million contract.”

Yes, good players sign good contracts. Future Hall of Fame players who score more than a point per game sign better contracts than players who aren’t.

The 2022 NHL Draft is about six weeks away, and that figures to be a pivotal event in both the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the tenure of Hextall. Big trades happen at the draft. Teams either add talent to set themselves up for the free-agent frenzy, which follows a week later.

“I’m not looking to rob anyone,” said Rust. “I just want what I deem is fair. Get a reasonable contract. … I’d like to think something will get worked out here.”

By now, it would seem Hextall should have an idea of what Rust thinks is fair.

If indeed, Letang, Rust, and Malkin were priorities, surely one would be signed by now. Jeff Carter got a new contract. Even Mark Friedman got a two-year deal. So, we know Hextall’s phone works, and his pen has ink.

In a break with tradition and contrary to many teams across the league, the Penguins GM has not yet addressed the media.

Pittsbugh Penguins Change

Also, there’s no danger of pressure from Penguins loyalist and owner Mario Lemieux. He no longer owns the team, which seems to get lost in the shuffle. The nebulous press releases at the time of sale indicated Lemieux would remain an owner, but as we guessed at the time, that appears to have been more ceremonial than substantial.

Former team CEO David Morehouse abruptly resigned a few weeks ago. He reportedly cited a distant relationship with the new Fenway Group ownership and stepped away.

The emotion does not bind the new powers, nor do historical ties and the promises made long ago that all three would ride into the sunset together.

And so, each of the Penguins’ unrestricted free agents expressed a desire to stay, but only after speaking in the negative about the process. They also used past tense regarding their tenures. Letang spoke as if he’s expecting to hit free agency, albeit he didn’t intend to do so and past tense on the Penguins’ intentions.

“I’ve always signed an extension in the past, so (free agency is) not something I know what to expect. It’s always been my main goal to stay here and play in Pittsburgh. So I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect,” Letang sullenly.

“There haven’t been real amplified talks yet, but we’ll see where that goes in a couple of weeks,” Rust said.

A year of uncertainty coming down to a couple of weeks seems more like waiting by the phone on Friday night for a call that hasn’t come all week. You know, back when people used phones as phones.

Malkin talked about his brothers, one Canadian, one French Canadian. The boys spend so much time together and have done so since Michel Therrien used to throw them out of the rink because they hung around too long.

While everyone claimed to not discuss it–that’s not entirely true. If there’s anyone that Malkin and Letang have confided, it’s Crosby.

“It’s something we’ve had to talk about and think about all year. I mean, it’s it’s not easy. I think it’s it’s amazing how those guys are able to kind of put that aside and and continue to play that, you know, the way that they did. It’s never easy when you go through that situation,” Sidney Crosby said.

Past tense and hope regarding the end of their Penguins careers.

“Obviously, as soon as the game ended and sitting in the locker room and on the bus back to the airport and stuff, those things crossed my mind,” Rust said. “Obviously (it is) never a great thought and (they) happened a few weeks earlier than I would like. But…yeah…”

Malkin admitted he’ll go. Letang seemed to acquiesce, too. Rust perhaps held out the most hope. He seemed to plead when he asked for a fair contract.

But as head coach Mike Sullivan has been known to say, hope is not a strategy.

If Hextall is not going to make a serious and honest effort to re-sign any of the trio, he should probably say so. It seems almost cruel to leave them twisting in the wind, hoping for a call that will never come.

Otherwise, there is no evidence, no suggestion, and no indications that the Pittsburgh Penguins core will remain together. By all of the available evidence, it’s over. Even the players know it, even if they hope otherwise.

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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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Dean
Dean
1 month ago

Do you hear something in addition to the interviews? this feels like an overly negative interpretation of the interviews I heard.

James
James
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

Same. Other takes on this exit interviews did not drop the gloom and doom bomb if this piece. I guess we will know by mid July who stays and who goes.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dan I am confused. Are you saying that you have different videos than what is published on the Pens App and YouTube?

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Thanks for removing my comment.

William Maloni
William Maloni
1 month ago

Sign Rust and Rakell, let Geno and Letang move on , for cap relief. (Move, Kappy, Dumo, Pettersson, Ruidel,

Use whatever cap space you have to get some large, mobile D and some forwards with size and snarl.

Justin
Justin
1 month ago
Reply to  William Maloni

Why? Sullivan didn’t play those types of players. Unless you think he should go as well, something I’m not against

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin

Justin, of course the players want to stay here! Want more money! While Morehouse was here, they ran the team. Sully’s bodyguard Morehouse is gone. Need character, youth and size. Hexy was actually a Morehouse hire! Let’s see what happens! I expect some major changes. Just my opinion and if Hexy wants to keep his job.

cspu81
cspu81
1 month ago
Reply to  William Maloni

Amen.

Alan Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  William Maloni

Am I wrong in thinking the Pens are the smallest team in the NHL?

charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
1 month ago

I am.more sad now after reading this.

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
1 month ago

This is like predicting next month’s weather. All we know to this point is that Hexty’s been focused on value.

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

I’m a big fan of Geno and Letang. But they are not going to be better players by signing and their ages suggest a decline in play as time marches on. If they are asking for 7 plus a year I say pass(and wish them the best as long as they are not playing the Pens). This team hasn’t won a series for years now so something has to change, the what ifs do not cut it anymore. Use the money for a change in personnel that will give the team a chance to win using a different formula. Crosby… Read more »

Mary Lurwick
Mary Lurwick
1 month ago

Out of respect for Sid, I think they need to re-sign Malkin and Letang. Sid’s happiness in his final 3 years could yield another Cup.
We will spend more money trying to replace them and who knows if replacement guys will have chemistry with them.
I would also love to re-sign Rusty and Rakell. Other spots can be filled by DOC, Zohorna, Puusty, Jordie B, POJ, etc. and of course some change on D will be needed.

Alan Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Mary Lurwick

Yeah there are maybe 10 guys come back but 10 new younger guys wouldn’t hurt!

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago
Reply to  Mary Lurwick

Something makes me think Sid will be a professional no matter who is on the team. Fenway will still have to ice a team that sells tix. If they think keeping any UFA will do that, they’ll sign him. Otherwise, they won’t. I just don’t think an older Geno gives you a higher probability of winning another Cup next year. Signing other players may not either but they should be younger and cheaper. I think Letang is gone. I think Geno is probably gone due to dollars. I think Rust is goes because he wants a fair deal. I bet… Read more »

Curt Lindner
Curt Lindner
1 month ago
Reply to  Mary Lurwick

Mary I think you are letting loyalty get into the way of reality. Malkin has slowed down so much, doesnt play defense, and takes BAD PENALTIES! In all fairness, the Pens should have traded him 2 to 3 years ago when they could have realized a decent windfall in return. If Letang will sign for 3 years at 19 million (6.33 mil annually) then I say there is a 50/50 chance he resigns. In my opinion he is more important to the team due to the current defense roster. REMEMBER. WHILE WE LOVE OUR PLAYERS, THIS IS A BUSINESS AND… Read more »

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago

What Free Agent player in any sport doesn’t say “I’d love to come back.” Name one.

Calroofer
Calroofer
1 month ago
Reply to  Ujn Hunter

There are plenty of pro athletes that didn’t want to return to their perspective teams and made it well known.. Baker Mayfield ring a bell? Lol .. Plenty of players that simply get tired of losing and request trades … incidentally, you let both malkin and Letang walk which is Garbage management 101 by losing any kind of return from 3 big name players malkin, Letang, fleury that should have all returned a kings ransom since the last Cup win.. Shoukd have traded Letang and kept Trevor Daley.. And I’d bet a body part that the trade the Blue jackets… Read more »

Alan Smith
1 month ago

Just entertainment folks! Pens are a great watch! NHL has changed and the focus on offensive play is over! 2-1 is a standard score! Sorry but boring! No new fans due to low scores and no changes!

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Have you watched any hockey this year? 2-1 is not a standard score.

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

Were any discussions on contract before or after Fenway SG bought the team?

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 month ago

I have been saying all year trade Malkin and Letang before the trade deadline. It is your last chance to get something. Well they got something another first round exit and nothing for these [players. Turn out the lights the [party is over!

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

I’d offer no more than 4×9 to Letang, and the Canadiens would probably counter with 5×10, at which point he would have a decision to make: Sid and possibly/probably the playoffs, or Montreal, greater financial security and possibly/probably an early va-ca.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

I think it’d be fun to watch Montreal offer that contract with Price’s contract (and Weber’s) already on the books! San Jose of the North (and East). LOL!

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Expect Weber to retire because of health issues. He has about $31 mil left on his contract.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

I’d love to see Rakell play a full season with Crosby and Jake to see the results seeing how good the line looked together for that short stint.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

Rakell has some obvious talents, but he doesn’t have Rust’s grit, physicality and consistency. He tends to be great one game, invisible the next. Would like to see him on the second line with a new center.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
Joe
Joe
1 month ago

Unfortunately the reality of this business is what it is. Players owe it to themselves to make the most money they can get from whoever wants to pay. As a fan, it would be great to see the ‘core’ stay together until the end. A piece of that ‘core’ was mistakenly let go for no return a few years back so I am not optimistic.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 month ago

See ya Letang, don’t let the puck hit cha on the way out. Go take your sloppy turn overs and reckless play some place else. Seriously, he padded his offensive numbers by gambling on defense, look at his plus minus in the games Pens lost to the Rangers. He’s not young enough to cover up the mistakes anymore, and pairing him with another defender to babysit him is a joke. I’d welcome him back as a winger, but his moonlighting as a d man is ridiculous.

Fredrick
Fredrick
1 month ago

At the end of the day, I will be sad to see Malkin, Letang, and Rust leave. With that being said if we replace them and become a more complete team which moves past the first round of the playoffs next year then I am all for it. I agree with others. I think Hex will be a bit more aggressive this offseason. Let’s be honest though if Letang wants/signs somewhere for 8.5 million and John Klingberg also signs for the same 8.5 deal who would you rather? I think Malkin should sign a Bergeron type contract 6-7 million which… Read more »

David
David
1 month ago

 “So, we know Hextall’s phone works, and his pen has ink.”

Nice sentence, Dan.

dweth2
dweth2
1 month ago

Keep Letang and Rust if possible, I love Geno but it’s time. Letang had a great year and even if his play drops off who is better that would be available on the market.

Kris
Kris
1 month ago

This nonsense of Letang to Montreal has me cracking up. Have any of you experts looked at their cap situation? Are they not in a rebuild? So if we are going to a rebuild and not bringing back a 35 year old defenseman, why would Montreal. Oh yeah some guys who was agent is now part of management so you have that going on. Seriously, this is too funny. Are they any real reporters left or just a bunch of speculators?

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