Kris Letang insists that he wants to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Same with Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins are adamant that they’d like to keep both. PHN spoke with Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke on Wednesday, shortly after he completed an interview with NHL Sirius/XM Home Ice, too.
No one involved in the talks, though, has publicly expressed confidence that keeping Letang or Malkin will happen.
Mostly because there is a lot of hard negotiating to be done before it’s determined whether either player still is on the payroll this fall. On the air, Burke seemed to indicate the ball was in the player’s court.
“I can tell you in 20 seconds. We want to bring both players back. We’ve made them very fair offers,” Burke told host Gord Stellick. “They’re going to come back with something that makes sense, or they’re not. It’s that simple.”
Letang, Malkin and their agents have decided how much they believe they are worth, and whether remaining with the Penguins means enough to them to pare their contract demands. And, if so, by how much.
Management, meanwhile, has figured out how high its offers can be while still making it possible to re-sign other players, or to replace some who leave, while complying with the NHL’s cap ceiling of $82.5 million for 2022-23.
Although the Penguins will have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents until noon on July 13, there’s little reason to believe talks with Letang and Malkin will continue that long.
What happens with those two is the linchpin of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offseason plans, since the deals they accept — or decline to — will determine whether the team finds a new No. 2 center and top-pairing defenseman, as well as how much cap space is available to assemble the roster.
But it isn’t practical for the front office to wait until the free-agent signing period begins before negotiating with its other free-agents-to-be and considering possible replacements for Letang and Malkin.
“Our first priority was to sign Bryan Rust,” Burke said. “We were very happy we were able to get that done. The next two pieces will dictate what happens after this. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, where you can’t really do a lot of the puzzle until you put the middle pieces in.
“So we have to figure out what Kris Letang wants to do, and what Evgeni Malkin wants to do. Once we determine that, then other pieces will fall into place. For now, we’re waiting on these two guys. That might not be the case much longer.”
He added that “I don’t think a hard deadline (for ending negotiations) would be productive right now, but yes, at some point, one will kick in.”
Per CapFriendly.com, the Pittsburgh Penguins have about $23.2 million in cap space available. Burke said it is “a distinct possibility” that there will be trades to open additional space, but that “we’re not there yet.”
Hs also said management has not decided whether to allow any of the Penguins’ restricted free agents — Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen are the two on the major-league roster — to become unrestricted by declining to give them a qualifying offer.
How active the Penguins will be in the free-agent market next month will be influenced by a number of variables — the outcome of the Letang and Malkin talks top that list — but Burke said that if they get involved, it will be with specific targets in mind.
“You do your shopping list, then you go shopping,” he said. “When you go shopping without a shopping list, you make bad decisions. We’re going to set prices on guys, then go see what makes sense.
“If you look at last year, we shopped at K-Mart and we hit some good values. We should have more cap space than that, depending on what the two big guys do, then maybe you can shop at Nordstrom.
“But you still shop with a list. ‘Here’s what we’d like. Here’s what we’ll pay.’ The day you don’t shop with a list is the day you make bad decisions.”