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Both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are unrestricted free agents this offseason, coming off of long term deals with the Pittsburgh Penguins. On Saturday, the Pens signed forward Bryan Rust to a six year contract extension with a $5.125 million cap hit. The move raises questions over whether they can afford to retain Geno and Tanger. GM Ron Hextall wanted to reassure fans that he is focused on keeping them both in Pittsburgh until they are ready to hang up the skates.
“I think you look at them individually, they’ve both been here 16 years,” Hextall said. “’Geno’ has obviously been a great player, certainly one of the best players in the history of the game. We’d like to keep him as a Pittsburgh Penguin for the rest of his career.
“In a perfect world, Geno retires a Penguin. I think ‘Tanger’ is the same. They’ve been here the same amount of time. These two, they’re generational players. They don’t come around very often.”
That however means that some other players will need to be pushed out the door. Signing Rust, another big free agent that the Penguins needed to lock up, means that the team now has a projected $24-25 million in cap space this offseason. They also need to re-sign Kasperi Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues, as well as sign a backup goalie if they don’t bring back Casey DeSmith.
Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes the move and Hextall’s attitude means that he Penguins won’t be rebuilding under Fenway Sports Group, who purchased the club in November.
He therefore believes the Pens won’t retain Rakell and Rodrigues.
On top of these two, Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dave Molinari thinks Jason Zucker, Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and Brian Dumoulin could also end up on the trade block. However, they all carry annual average values exceeding $4 million along with injury histories or reputations for inconsistent play.
It could be hard to clean up in order to make room to keep Malkin and Letang by making them great offers.
It was recently reported that the Penguins had reached out to Malkin and Letang with low ball offers as they were allegedly both offered three-year contracts at $5 million AAV.
If Hextall can move some pieces out the door, he will be able to do better.