The contract discussions for Pittsburgh Penguins stalwarts are coming to an end. Either way, we’ll have a decision in July. After Penguins president of hockey ops Brian Burke spoke with colleague Dave Molinari and a national radio audience on Wednesday, the situation appears to be as firm and clear as the Quebec ice hotel.
Perhaps as cold, too.
The Penguins and GM Ron Hextall have set valuations. Like any good negotiator, I’m sure Hextall can fudge those numbers a bit, but not much. We’re in crunch time and it doesn’t sound like the sides are close.
“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,” Burke told Molinari.
Burke would have said optimistic things if the sides were close to a deal. Instead, after saying the players would sign at a number that makes sense, or they wouldn’t sign, he explained further to NHL Home Ice.
“Our job is to be as fair as we can, dealing with our cap numbers and budget as best we can,” Burke told the radio hosts. “We’d like both players to come back–that’s going to be determined by the two players themselves.”
At the risk of putting words in Burke’s mouth, the ball is in Malkin and Letang’s court. The puck is on their stick.
As this process has played out, I have advocated signing Malkin and Letang. My cap hit for the pair would be capped at $16 million annually, but a five-year deal for Letang is too dangerous. Just as the danger of dead money exponentially increases for Malkin after two years.
I’ve also added signing Letang to almost anything he wants and nuking the Penguins blue line to pay for it.
However, after a deal didn’t get done by later June, my take evolved to advocating the Penguins pull back. Sign the other players, such as Rickard Rakell, Casey DeSmith, maybe Kasperi Kapanen, or Danton Heinen, and then put the remainder on the table for the star players.
Inferring from Burke’s comments, the Penguins have taken a similar path, albeit in reverse order–they’ve set the values. Burke didn’t say take it or leave it, but he wasn’t far off, either. Hextall set aside money for his other decisions and needs.
And that’s that.
Let’s be brutally honest. The likely result is written on the subway walls and in the sounds of silence.
It has happened in the past–a star player didn’t like the team’s offers, hit free agency, then both sides caved. Steven Stamkos is a prime example of a player who signed a massive contract with his current team despite a year of negotiating and then getting to the edge of free agency. The New York Islanders held out hope for a similar path by John Tavares before he bolted to Toronto.
Tavares strung out the process and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And that’s far more common than a player getting cold feet after hitting free agency.
But most likely, they’re gone.
Perhaps I’m an impatient sort. My lack of temperance or grace for others to make a decision on their time has cost me opportunities. But it has also saved a lot of time, too. At some point, you know. You know?
If the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ron Hextall, and Brian Burke don’t know the score by now, shame on them.
It is time to draw the line. “Here’s the best. What do you think? If you don’t take this offer, we’re going to spend it elsewhere because winning and making the playoffs next season is more important to us than anything else.”
If Letang and Malkin really want more than the Penguins can faithfully offer, Hextall will need time to replace them. Every week is a lost week in that regard. RHDs Jeff Petry and Tyson Barrie are available via the NHL trade block, but swinging a deal for those players will be a little more difficult than ordering snacks off Amazon.
Ryan Strome. Vincent Trocheck.
Those names will likely be on the UFA market and could be solid second-line centers at a cost well less than Malkin made last season, BUT…here’s the unfun part: other teams will drive up the price beyond their actual value.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ trade coffers do not have the necessary treasure to trade for a second-line center of that quality. Certainly not if they trade for a right-handed defenseman.
There’s clearly a benefit to getting Malkin and Letang under contract. Letang is far and away the best right-defenseman available. Malkin is one of the best centers available, and when healthy, he’s one of the best in the league.
Maybe the Penguins can get better without Malkin. Maybe the puck bounces the other way.
But neither make the Penguins better at the wrong price.
And it’s time. Pick your best yinzer expression about getting off the pot. It’s time for the Penguins and the players to square up, make their decisions, and move forward, together or separately. It’s what’s best for both sides.