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Here’s One Less Thing to Worry About With Letang, Malkin

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang

The merits of the Pittsburgh Penguins re-signing Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin have been debated since long before either agreed to his new contract earlier this month.

Ad nauseum.

And then some.

Every conceivable argument for retaining — or severing ties to — one or both has received a thorough public airing.

Repeatedly.

Many of those positions were passionately held.

Quite a few were compelling.

Some were even convincing.

And at least one — the long-term impact the deals than Letang and Malkin got will have on the Penguins’ salary-cap situation — might have been a bit overstated.

Now, no one can say yet how Malkin will perform over the next four seasons, or Letang over the next six.

Perhaps Malkin will shake off his recent spate of serious injuries and return to being a valuable contributor all over the ice, in almost all situations. Or maybe he will do little more than generate an occasional highlight — probably on the power play — and make Ron Hextall regret that he didn’t take the salary-cap space he used on Malkin to try to lure Vincent Trocheck or Nazim Kadri … or almost anyone else.

And it could be that Letang — whose commitment to conditioning leaves him with a physique that makes a slab of granite seem flabby by comparison — will continue to make frequent appearances on the list of top vote-getters for the Norris Trophy. Then again, the major health issues he had earlier in his career and all demanding minutes he’s played over the years will conspire to turn him into, well, the guy who used to be Kris Letang.

The only certainty in either case is that, regardless of how things play out, there will be plenty of people saying, “I told you so,” because there are so many on either side. And just about everywhere in between.

Now, Hextall likely would have preferred to not give guys in their mid-30s more than a couple of years on their new contracts, but it’s clear that doing so was necessary, whether simply to reach an agreement because other clubs would have been prepared to do so (in Letang’s case) or to water down the salary-cap hit (in Malkin’s).

Even some proponents of doing whatever it took to keep Letang and Malkin expressed concern about the impact those cap hits could have on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ ability to cobble together a competitive lineup when their new contracts are winding down.

That was completely understandable, but might prove to be unduly alarming.

Assuming there’s not another pandemic or similar calamity, anyway.

There was a time when the cap ceiling soared in a way of which Wall Street could only dream.

When the cap was introduced by the 2005-06 season, it was $39 million. By Year 6, it was $69.4 million.

And in 2019-20, when the regular season was abruptly aborted by coronavirus, it stood at $81.5 million.

But the resultant loss of revenue around the league through the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, when games were played in empty (or largely empty) arenas, stunted the growth of the cap.

It stayed at $81.5 million through the just-concluded season and will rise just $1 million for 2022-23. Growth, if any, figures to be slow for a couple more years, as players repay an estimated $1 billion to the owners because of Hockey-Related Revenues lost when games were canceled or contested in empty buildings.

There are projections that should happen in the next two years or so.

And when the NHL returns to its conventional formula for calculating the cap range, precedent suggests the ceiling should rise by seven figures every year.

Which means that those down-the-road cap hits for Letang — and especially, Malkin — might not be quite as problematic as some anticipate.

Obviously, the Pittsburgh Penguins would prefer to get a good return on the investment they make in any player (or at least to have the cap space to shop for a replacement), but raising the ceiling should ease the sting a bit if the older guys underperform as their deals are winding down.

That’s something to keep in mind when another guy — one who figures to have a cap hit of, oh, let’s say $8.7 million — needs a contract to replace the one that will expire in 2025.

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Jeff Young
Jeff Young
21 days ago

Great point about the cap! And if JZ and BD play this season, those dollars come off with another $1M off of JJ’s dollars too.

I’d love to watch Sid play as long as he can. But I suspect he’ll only do so if he can maintain the level he expects out of himself. But, if anyone can, he can. Hey, 68 is still going! 🙂

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
21 days ago

Dave, I don know your thoughts on the Pens Cap woes, but mine is they have too many high salaries, Sid, Geno, Letang, Guentzel, Rust, Carter, And Petry. That’s seven players eating up more than Ralf the Cap money. When you plug in others like Zucker, Pettersson, Dumoulin, and Kapanen ,to name a few, there isn’t much left. That’s where you try to piece in so cheap options that aren’t always good. This fan base hates the ZAR and asinine type of player. They expect a full lineup of All Stars that we can’t afford. I wouldn’t minding shedding one… Read more »

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
21 days ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

I fully agree on Malkin and thought we’d let him walk. In all honesty though, he took less than what I feared, it’s just the length I don’t like. Nine defensemen are too many, and I had no problem with Ruhwedel or Friedman as spares. Three I could do without are Dumoulin, Pettersson, and POK.

Phil
Phil
20 days ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

So you would trade the whole left side? Dumoulin is still a top pairing LHD. I would not give up on him yet. And to your question for dave. I’m sorry I hope it’s okay I respond I know it was a question for him? But I dont think trading star players for depth role players equates to success. Keep your star players and put accurate roll players around them. Cant trade star players for role player reclamation projects . Guentzel is a star we need to keep him. Not alot of 40 goal point per game players floating around.… Read more »

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
21 days ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

Wow, spell check is a killer. Ralf instead of half, and better yet asinine instead of Simon. Too funny

Frank
Frank
21 days ago

Full credit Dave for adding some rational thinking to the signings of “the core.” I am anxiously awaiting a day when I can wake up and not have to read some ranting about the connection between the end of the world and the duration of Malkins contract. So far we have managed to hold it together. You have to love the passion of sports fans. Hockey/Penguiin fans are at the top of that list but only in Pittsburgh was there more of a willingness to boot two future Hall of Famers to the curb than there was for the removal… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
20 days ago
Reply to  Frank

Trocheck would not have been a suitable replacement for Malkin had they let him go. I just had to say that. I know that isn’t what you were saying, just had to throw that in there. He is a very good 3c, but not a 2c on a good team. I think the Rangers are going to regret that contract more than the Penguins will regret Malkin’s. Just a hunch. While we are at it, the other mentioned as a suitable replacement for Malkin, JT Miller, would have been an expensive trade that the penguins simply don’t have the pieces… Read more »

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