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Kingerski: Hextall Making Shrewd Moves, but Handcuffed Himself with ‘The Core’

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NHL Trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ron Hextall

CRANBERRY — Ron Hextall continues to make shrewd moves as the Pittsburgh Penguins GM. He hasn’t yet missed on a player. From Mark Friedman, acquired on the waiver wire for nothing, Jeff Carter, Brock McGinn, and Rickard Rakell, Hextall’s acquisitions have not only filled their role but done so with aplomb.

Hextall has done a near brilliant job with everything except the core with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Both contracts will likely haunt the Penguins in the end.

Keeping Letang and Malkin now looks like handcuffs from which Hextall could not escape. However, he may have placed the ‘cuffs on himself.

Yes, in earlier opinions, this writer penned the Penguins should sign Malkin and Letang because they deserved it. They would have been the best available players on the free agent market. That was true, but we didn’t realize the lengths the organization had to go to sign them. Letang and Malkin received signing bonuses later in the contract, making them buyout proof. They also received extra years beyond their expected expiration dates.

Because of the signing bonuses in later years and front-loaded deals, those deals are “35+” contracts that stick against the salary cap, even if the player retires.

The only injunction is LTIR, but only if the player qualifies. If the player just walks away because it’s time, the Penguins keep paying. And paying. The salary cap hit remains through the natural end of the contract. Conceivably, the Penguins could have over $12 million in dead money in four years if both Letang and Malkin find the end of their careers.

That didn’t scare Hextall.

“I think all deals are risky. That’s just reality. And we have a marketplace, and we got to make deals within our marketplace,” Hextall said. “So our No. 1 objective was to keep our cap numbers down on those guys so we can surround them with other pieces instead of getting rid of other pieces to be below the cap.”

Fair. That would seem to work for two or three years. But beyond that? The Penguins could be in real trouble if/when Malkin or Letang’s play slips. Modern science is wonderful, but it hasn’t yet cured aging.

Let’s go, science. What’s taking so long?! Some of us are still getting older and don’t like it. But I digress.

There remains a dichotomy to Ron Hextall’s job in Pittsburgh. He’s quietly but effectively adding talent. Signing RHD Jan Rutta was a fantastic signing. It was an A+ type of signing compared to his predecessor dishing long-term deals with a $4 million AAV to every defenseman at the first opportunity.

Not many in Pittsburgh Penguins land would argue that Jeff Carter wasn’t worth paying the couple of draft picks. Same with Rickard Rakell. Both blended seamlessly.

As flawless as Hextall’s acquisitions have been, he’s been hamstrung by the aging Penguins core. It seems he’s made the best of the situation by slowly changing the cast of characters around the stars of the show. But he can’t touch the stars.

“Personally, I think we should have won (playoff series in 2021 and 2022). Obviously, that’s a matter of opinion, but that gives us the belief that we can still be very competitive and do special things,” Hextall said before adding emphasis to his subsequent sentences. “These guys are special players. These are generational players. These are not ‘really good hockey players.’ These are generational players.”

We agree. The Penguins outplayed their opponents in 2021 (New York Islanders) and 2022 (New York Rangers). In 2021, they let themselves down with shoddy goaltending. In 2022, let’s call it a confluence of events, including flying elbows and ill-timed injuries to goalies. 2022, especially, was just bad luck.

And so, the next two years are the Penguins’ big chance. They finally have a big defenseman (Rutta) who is a bit tougher to move near the net. Even if he’s not overly physical, he’s a good defenseman.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a legit top-six. Kris Letang continues to finish in the top-10 of Norris voting. Tristan Jarry is a two-time All-Star.

Who knows, maybe Jason Zucker will be healthy next season.

Hextall has done a solid, bordering on a great job, retooling the team around the core.

However, just as he should receive heaps of praise for his acquisitions, it seems very likely that he will someday receive far more criticism for keeping the core that he was handed, that is impossible to replace, tantalizing good, but will probably stick around after the party is over soaking up valuable resources that prevent the continued competitiveness they created.

Maybe it was an impossible task. Retool AND keep the core. Perhaps Hextall will be good enough to create one more winner –one more blaze of glory before the end.

Irony. The core that brought so much joy to the fanbase and success to the organization could be the thing that eventually ends it. And for his excellent work, Hextall agreed to the albatross, which may eventually cost him.

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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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Steve Malik
Steve Malik
24 days ago

Thats the chance you have to take!!! I can see the core wanting to prove all the naysayer’s wrong by playing at a high level!!! Maybe the cap will go up 10M in 3 years no one knows… Just like would you have given Trocheck 7 years…?

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
24 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Unbelievable! A knowledgeable and honest Sports Journalist in Pittsburgh. To honestly tell the fan base this could end badly? Because of age , that affects every human being especially athletes in a demanding physical sport. Crosby is a freak and we are blessed to have had him Mario and Jagr. Sid is a freak in physical conditioning. These contracts are bad for Letang and Malkin. Vinny is 7 yrs younger than Malkin. Tremendous skater, hits everything that moves. Great penalty killer. Never had the skilled forwards Geno had. Just a honest evaluation of what the future could bring is refreshing… Read more »

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

what did I just read?

Kris
Kris
23 days ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

Unbelievable another Yinzer fan who thinks the shiny toy in the free agency box is better than what we have. You really think Geno won’t be on LTIR in year 4 of that contract with all his health issues? You think Letang won’t still be the most in shape player on the team in year 5 of his contract.
You people all have bad ageism prejudice and should be ashamed of yourselves. You do realize that Geno is 9 years younger than Tom Brady?

Cal
Cal
24 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Totally agree

Phil
Phil
24 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dan the team also has mid to lates 20’s players. That are very good and still in their prime. Guentzel-27 rust-30 rakell-29 blueger-28 dumo-29 jarry-26 Pending trades petterson 26 marino 26. Guentzel is a star we could build around. My meaning is they should still be competitive in three or fours years. And if a rebuild is necessary. They have the assets required to acquire younger talent and draft picks when the time comes. Despite the contracts or possible decline of the core players. Sorry if i got any of the players ages wrong. But the organization to me looks… Read more »

JasonP
JasonP
24 days ago
Reply to  Phil

Totally agree keeping both cap hits, Especially Letang’s, under 7M keeps these deals from being too big a handicap unless both players retire after 3 years. Letang will likely be playing at decent 1st pair quality or t worse 2nd pair minutes, and eating 6.1 for that 1 year on Malkin’s contract won’t ruin the team’s ability to compete especially since a lot can happen in 3 years. Not to mention those contracts are traded from time to time as teams with cap space try to acquire assets for cap relief

Kris
Kris
23 days ago
Reply to  Phil

Average age of the Penguins roster last year was 28.5 years old. Average age of the Tampa Bay Lightening last year was 28.5 years old. Oops there goes your stupid age theory.

Phil
Phil
23 days ago
Reply to  Kris

It wasn’t a theory. It was a fact! And to think everyone thinks the pens are old 28.5 is prime years. You didnt prove anything other than my point. Thank you for that. we have alot of guys in their prime and alot of assets for the future. Next time read the whole thing. If you disagree you can share why. Instead of comparing the age of the pens to that of the lighting. And thinking you explained why I was wrong. Lol and I’m not we have alot of guys in their mid to late twenties. That’s a fact… Read more »

Curt Lindner
Curt Lindner
24 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I agree. NO BRAINER!

Ethan
24 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

This is a tired topic. Choice was made long ago when not traded for assets. To let them walk for nothing would have been the real loss. They all knew the dance moves which is why letang started talking about playing til 50 in march

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago
Reply to  Ethan

really sleepy on that keyboard there

Ethan
23 days ago
Reply to  maybeTROLLn

Yep sleeping great. Get to watch the greatest pens dman and second line center play a few more seasons.

Bachinga
Bachinga
24 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

For 7 years? Money is okay term is stupid…

Kris
Kris
23 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Thank goodness you are the writer and not the GM then. Trochek, 7 years. How is that not a dog of a contract? Trochek will be 35 years old at the end of that contract. In that same breath you say we shouldn’t keep a 35 year old Malkin. So you contradict yourself and make zero sense. But keep up the good work.

Will
Will
12 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

LOL. Over Geno at 6.1. 😆

Bokonon80
Bokonon80
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Malik

The cap will go up, so will the salaries and the ages of the core. And there’s no players in the Pens pipeline to affordably inject young talent down the road.

And yes. I would take a younger player for 7 years.

This only works if the Pens move two defensemen and bring in younger, tougher secondary scoring. If that happens then we have our cake and eat it too.

James
James
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Malik

I completely agree Steve.

DaGama
DaGama
24 days ago

What me worry, in a few years Pens bring in Tonya Harding’s boyfriend to “handle” the situation.

walligo1@yahoo.com
walligo1@yahoo.com
24 days ago

i have always thought malkin would eventually be moved to left wing

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago

THIS is the speculation we are here for. Gotta give it a few runs, no?

bdgr
bdgr
23 days ago

he does run with sid after killed penalties.. I wish sully did that every time

Brandon C
Brandon C
24 days ago

Lol how did he get handcuffed? Logically we needed a legit top dman and a legit second line center. These guys do not come cheap. I would have never thought we would have got both those guys back at 12.2.mil. Plus re signing Rust and Rakell at cap friendly deals.
Sure he gave them term but that is what he had to do. Emotionally it is nice sewing Geno and Tanger the respect they deserve. I am.happy they.get to retire Pens

Last edited 24 days ago by Brandon C
Chris R
Chris R
24 days ago

Sports are an emotional game, and not everyone views them through the lens of logic. Keeping (some? Many?) fans happy is probably worth quite a bit in ticket and merch sales. Doubtless Fenway Sports Group have crunched the numbers, which is why Letang and Malkin (Malkin in particular) were allowed re-sign. Win or lose, fans are going to keep coming until, at least, Crosby is gone. Therefore, keeping him, and them, happy, is a priority. And that’s not to mention the legacies and the optics. Reputation is hard to establish and easy to lose. How many seats is Chicago going… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
24 days ago

Hextall has done a fantastic job period!

BocaMarine
BocaMarine
24 days ago

And he’s not done yet. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the excess d-men.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago
Reply to  BocaMarine

rumors in the future tense

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
24 days ago

Did we sign Larsen?

The 814
The 814
24 days ago

Dan, your willingness to point out the emperor’s choice in clothing is very admirable in this day and age of mirroring-style journalism. Thank you.

Harry B.
Harry B.
24 days ago

This is the NHL…the LTIR is joke. Marian Hossa went on LTIR when his actual salary hit $1m for a “skin rash”. Henrik Zetterberg openly admitted that it was always planned for him to skip on the last two years of his contract that was reduced to $1m/year, and then was instructed to retract and “restated” what he tried to say. The GM’s declined to address this because it’s their get out of jail free card. The idea that these contracts are bad because of the 35+ rule is a non-starter. They are bad for a whole host of other… Read more »

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago
Reply to  Harry B.

Yeah, we cannot cry about the LTIR anymore. That rule has beeen accepted by all the teams. Fingers crossed the NHL can adjust the cap positively soon.

OR become as popular as the NBA overnight

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
24 days ago

Let’s wait until year three to see if the contracts are an albatross.

Phil
Phil
24 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

Totally agree mark. Its literally just malkin and letang contracts 2 players. Even if they decline it will not destroy this franchise. I think for the next 3 years they are very productive players. At that point carter will be gone. Crosby hopefully stays past his contract. If that happens we have 3 aging leaders. Icons of the franchise. So I dont think 2 contracts will end that badly every team has 1 or 2 bad contracts. Plus we have alot of guys in their prime. Jarry, guentzel, rakell, Matheson, dumo, marino, petterson, p.o.j.,blueger,rust. So they can keep going with… Read more »

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago
Reply to  Phil

ya. never. know. Give us Geno on the wing for year 4.

Johhny
Johhny
24 days ago

I feel like the core is good and will be for a while still. Letang has a very good year and is in great shape. Malkin still. PPG player. At 6 mil for both, a small drop off in 3 to 5 years with a rising cap will still be worth it. You keep good players for good cap hits and change what isnt good, i have no problem with this. The thing i actually worry about the most with these signings is Rakell. He had a very small sample size with the Penguins, and there have been many players… Read more »

JasonP
JasonP
24 days ago
Reply to  Johhny

Totally agree on the term for Rakell. But I think he will fall into the rust category, and be a more of a dead weight at the end of the deal.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
24 days ago
Reply to  Johhny

Letang is a stallion just eating minutes. Doood rakell is kind of filthy and in his prime years.

Johhny
Johhny
23 days ago
Reply to  maybeTROLLn

I liked very much what Rakell did this year. All im saying is there have been other situations where players have come to the team and excelled, particularly after a TDL or offseason deal for a year, and it looked very bad a few years down the line. Its a risk. If Rakells numbers slip a little we will look at him the same way we look at Zucker (minus the injuries) or Kapanen now. I would have thought the same if they resigned Heinen, Boyle or Rodrigues for long term at a chunk for cap, although i would love… Read more »

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
23 days ago
Reply to  Johhny

Oh, true. I forgot signing anyone is a risk.

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[…] Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dan Kingerski writes that Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall handcuffed himself from making the team better via his commitment to UFAs Kris […]

Bachinga
Bachinga
24 days ago

As *shrewd* as Rocky Balboa’s deal for the robe…

Last edited 24 days ago by Bachinga
Bachinga
Bachinga
24 days ago

What a polite way of saying he blew up the team to save it…strap in boys…you’re about to see what he did to the Flyers…

BTW, McGinn’s play can be characterized as “disappointing”…horrible defensive player and for a 3rd or 4th liner that is disaster…and the book on Rakell is incomplete, at best…and my money says that half way through the season we will be calling for Carter to get on with his life’s work…

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[…] Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall is handcuffed into making shrewd moves on the NHL trade and free agent […]

Mark Connelly
Mark Connelly
24 days ago

The Carter contract extension is the only one I really question. As for the core, whatever window the Pens still have to possibly compete for a Cup slams shut in two or three years. When that happens, Malkin and Letang can decide whether or not to waive their no movement clauses, and Sid can decide if he is up for a rebuild or if we wants to sign with a contender. Hopefully, GMRH can upgrade the talent in the minor leagues in the meantime to make the trainwreck that will occur starting in 2025 a little shorter in duration.

Bachinga
Bachinga
24 days ago
Reply to  Mark Connelly

Dude…the window slammed shut three years ago…and has been nailed, nay, screwed shut over the last year…

Last edited 24 days ago by Bachinga
maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
23 days ago
Reply to  Bachinga

And the Canadiens lost the Cup Last year…

David
David
24 days ago

I agree with your conclusions about the future. But this was never about the future, but about winning NOW. I have no problem with risking the future with a better chance now, with this core. The Pens are going to have to go through a rebuild in a few years anyways. Besides, if they really do end up as bottom-feeders in a few years, they can get high draft picks. This is what began both the Mario and Crosby eras.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
23 days ago
Reply to  David

Dood, the article addresses both present and the future. Actually, the Headline does too.

David
David
23 days ago
Reply to  maybeTROLLn

First of all, it is spelled DUDE. Secondly, is there some rule on this site that states that I cannot give an opinion that the article also gives? I will write what I please. You don’t have to read it.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
22 days ago
Reply to  David

hoping i never have to read it again, my doood!

David
David
24 days ago

Teams that are always thinking about winning in the future rarely win in the present.

Bachinga
Bachinga
24 days ago
Reply to  David

^^^THAT^^^

Thomas
Thomas
24 days ago

Pens in 5. Stanley Cup 2023

Bob
Bob
23 days ago

I think the only reason Letang signed for that annual salary amount was because of the term being 6 years instead of 3 or 4.

shakham
shakham
23 days ago

This pretty much says it all “So our No. 1 objective was to keep our cap numbers down”. Creating $5M-$6M of cap space with Malkin/Letang was enough to keep a Rackell+. That’s a win in my book! Trochek would have been a level down at 2C, that would have been felt right away. There really wasn’t anybody that could replace Letang at his cap hit. Ultimately, there really wasn’t any option to do a mini-rebuild in the 3-4 years Crosby has left. We could have been left out in the cold trying to get JT Miller, Kadri, Trochek, etc. Keeping… Read more »

CPA
CPA
23 days ago

As you stated Dan the issue is the length of contract w/ buyout proof. You cannot allow your organization to fall into & the Pens have, so it truly is the next 3yrs then hope you have the assets in place to fill voids & $$ for FA’s. The main issue as of Wednesday is moving at least 3 contracts: 1) to get under cap 2) shed +4m to then either pay KK or trade ($2-3m arb). 3) enough cap to either take on Forward in trade, assets & cap flexibility at ASB to acquire depth. Be glad Pens aren’t… Read more »

Chad
Chad
23 days ago

Modern science has cured ageing a bit ud have to say. It’s not uncommon for players in the NHL to play at a high level untill 40. This was the best option or we could be the Blackhawks and be perennial cellar dwellers with no upside in site. So I believe your logic to be faulty and not in the penguins fans best interest.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
23 days ago

Whether or not this was a good idea will be answered in two years. If we had some serious playoff success (which would likely depend on how healthy we stay) then it was a very successful summer for Hextall. If we stay healthy and aren’t great or don’t stay healthy and Geno and Letang get injured a bunch, then hindsight will say it was dumb. But it all depends only on the next two seasons if you ask me. After that who cares. If we are bad in the last 2 years of Geno’s deal, whatever. The boys will be… Read more »

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[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now writes that pittsburgh penguins GM Ron Hextall handcuffed himself to improving the team through his commitment to UFAs Kris Letang […]

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