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There’s a Deadline Looming … and it’s Not for Signing Malkin

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Danton Heinen

The Pittsburgh Penguins have some pretty prominent players who will become free agents if they don’t receive a contract by noon Wednesday.

You might have heard in recent weeks, for example, that they’ve been doing a bit of negotiating with Evgeni Malkin.

Rickard Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, Brian Boyle, Louis Domingue and (gasp) Nathan Beaulieu are poised to leave the payroll in a few days, too.

But while the Malkin talks, which seem to hinge largely on whether Malkin will settle for three years or the team will add a fourth to its offer, have received most of the attention lately, getting an agreement with him actually is not Ron Hextall’s most time-sensitive challenge.

More pressing is deciding whether to extend qualifying offers to the team’s restricted-free-agents-to-be before the deadline Monday. Potential RFAs who do not receive one immediately become unrestricted, and can begin negotiating with prospective new employers Tuesday.

The collection of such players throughout the Penguins’ organization is in double-digits, and there’s little reason to believe that all will be qualified before the deadline. Defenseman P.O Joseph seems like a safe bet to receive an offer, and forward Alexander Nylander might be a good candidate, too.

But two wingers who were on the major-league roster in 2021-22 — Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen — represent the most intriguing cases for Hextall and his staff to consider.

As of midday Sunday, however, management apparently had not determined whether to qualify Heinen and/or Kapanen. Those decisions likely are influenced to some degree by the Malkin negotiations, since the Penguins have only about $15.3 million in salary-cap space available.

An equally significant¬† — and perhaps even bigger — factor is that Heinen and Kapanen are eligible for salary arbitration.

If not for that, it likely would be a given that Heinen would get the requisite $1.1 million offer, while Kapanen would be receiving his, which would be worth $840,000.

After all, qualifying them would give the Pittsburgh Penguins the right to compensation if either signed with another team.

However, if a player takes his team to arbitration, there’s a chance he will be awarded a contract that could sabotage the team’s salary structure, or even push it above the salary-cap ceiling.

A club has can walk away from an arbitration award it deems excessive, but only if its average annual value is above a designated level. Per CapFriendly.com, that now is $4,538,958, so it presumably would not be a factor for Heinen or Kapanen.

Heinen, signed as a free agent in 2021 after Anaheim declined to give him a qualifying offer, had a solid season with the Penguins, putting up 18 goals and 15 assists in 76 games.

Conversely, Kapanen struggled for most of the season. He was projected to be a fixture on the second line, but played his way down — and, sometimes, out of — the lineup before finishing with 11 goals and 21 assists in 79 games.

His qualifying offer is dramatically lower than the salary-cap hit of $3.2 million on his expiring deal because of the way it is structured.

Sometime before Tuesday, he and Heinen will get a pretty good idea of whether their next contracts will be coming from the Penguins.