One thing unmentioned in yesterday’s article here on PensBurgh about Ron Hextall’s recent comments were his talk about the possibility of extending the contracts of Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. Hextall has said both will return in 2021-22, the final year of their current contracts. Both are eligible to sign next contracts that would start for 2022-23 as early as this summer. Here’s Hextall’s thoughts on extensions:
“Those are discussions that are certainly ongoing within our staff. I’m not necessarily eager to discuss them right now. But we see a future with this core. These guys have been here for a long time. We had a good team. It didn’t give me pause to figure out what to do with this core. It wasn’t a fluke. I expect to have these guys back next year for sure.”
He quickly parlays the question and isn’t “eager to discuss” with the media, but he’s sees a future that is at least until 2021-22 with the Pens’ “Big Three”.
Since Hextall isn’t going to move a star, his two options are to let them play out 2021-22 and see how that goes, or extend one or both at this point.
As mentioned back before the season, a key indicator for a possible guide-map to a Malkin extension is the Alex Ovechkin situation in Washington. It has been perhaps a longer negotiation than many expected, however Ovechkin is “confident” that he will re-sign soon, and since he’s serving as his own agent, he would know. It’s possible, if not probable, at this point the sides are holding off until after the expansion draft so that the Capitals won’t have to protect Ovechkin. (Seattle still could claim him, but he’s a free agent days after the expansion draft, so that would be a waste on the Kraken’s part).
Anyways, indicators are pointing towards Ovechkin signing a 3-5 year deal worth in the area of $10 million per season. After the 2021-22 season, Crosby will have three seasons left on his deal. That would represent Malkin’s age 36, 37 and 38 seasons and make a lot of sense.
If the term is fairly easy to nail down about what makes sense, the money is still up in the air. Negotiating money with stars is always a tricky situation, even for aging ones. Is it realistic to expect Malkin to take a big pay cut, especially when his compatriot down in Washington is likely looking at a small increase.
Added to the mix is the well-rumored belief that team owner Mario Lemieux — who knows a thing or two about being a franchise center playing for one franchise — has aspirations to keep Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh for the duration of their careers.
Hextall clearly has a plan (even if he doesn’t want to talk about it to the public yet, which is just fine) and it will be fun to watch unfold.
The Letang negotiation might more difficult. Do the Pens think three more years for him to line him up with Crosby and Malkin work?
Alex Pietrangelo just signed a contract in Vegas to pay him an $8.8 million AAV through age 38. Jacob Trouba isn’t as old but signed a deal for $8.0 million not too long ago. Dougie Hamilton is likely to get a large contract this summer. Being a number one right handed defenseman pays well.
How do you pay an aging franchise defenseman for the twilight of his career? On one hand, it doesn’t behoove the Penguins to make it too much. On the other hand, Letang’s probably going to be the best defender the team has for a while still to come. He’s a proud player and it’s a complicated negotiation with a lot of factors. Letting the season play out and seeing how much success Letang and the Pens have in the next year before deciding a course of action for each.
All of these factors should include that Bryan Rust is an unrestricted free agent after next season as well and should be commanding a serious raise off his $3.5 million cap hit. Hextall confirmed the Penguins remain in “win now” mode, which usually means risking losing good but unaffordable players to free agency in the interests of trying to keep a top team for as many cracks as possible.
One aspect that looks unavoidable is that while the Pens’ main core might be coming back for 2021-22, this next season could be the “last hurrah” for this group of Penguins as we know them. It’s possible, if not probable, that one or more of Malkin, Letang and Rust could be playing outside of Pittsburgh in 2022-23.
Will any of them re-sign this summer? It will be Pittsburgh’s most interesting off-season development to monitor.