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Ron Hextall tempers expectations about ability to add a big free agent

Excited about potentially adding a big name to the Penguins? Not so fast, my friend!

Colorado Avalanche v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Six Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Coming out of expansion, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in a rare spot for the organization. They actually have some salary cap space ahead of free agency next week, to the tune of about $7.4 million. And they have needs! Quickly, thoughts of the Pens adding a Brandon Saad here or a Blake Coleman there may have been swirling around in the hopes and dreams of Pens’ fans everywhere.

Well, not so fast my friend, says Ron Hextall.

Despite having some room, the Pens still need to sign or replace players like Zach Aston-Reese, Cody Ceci and a couple more forwards. Add in the extension and raise for Teddy Blueger and what looks like a bit of cap room fades away pretty quickly.

As of now, despite having some salary cap space, it does not appear that Ron Hextall’s strategy is going to be to dump the majority of what they have now on one marquee free agent like a Saad or a Coleman or a Jaden Schwartz or Zach Hyman (even though it doesn’t appear he will be hitting the open market).

But Pittsburgh does have enough space where they can “visit” free agency and at least be in the conversation. If the market isn’t hot for a player on the level of Tomas Tatar or another possible value signing out there, the Pens could make a move there. Hextall dismissed the ability the Pens have to add a “top” player, but given the need now for a forward, it wouldn’t be impossible for Pittsburgh to court a mid-level forward option if there is anyone out there they like.

Based on Hextall’s comments today, it wouldn’t be a huge splash player, however. Any further major changes to the team sound like they probably would be the result of a trade, where recently names like Marcus Pettersson and Tristan Jarry have seen whispers about potential availability.

Other topics and thoughts from Hextall:

  • Extension talk and negotiation with representatives for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are not a current big issue for Hextall, but will be likely next month. “Once we get through the draft and free agency, we’ll get more on it. At this point, we’ve just had more general discussions or mentions of wanting to re-sign the players.” The Pens’ interest, from the very top with Mario Lemieux, is clear that they want both Malkin and Letang back, we will see in late-summer just how willing the players are to extend their deals past 2021-22. If you’re a betting person, by Labor Day it’s possible, perhaps probable, that Malkin and Letang will have new contracts.
  • Hextall wished Brandon Tanev well. “Obviously, we lost a good player, but that is the price of expansion and we will move on. Seattle got a good one in Tans.”
  • On Jared McCann: “We set a price for Jared where we would move him if we got the right price.”
  • Hextall also mentioned the hope that Filip Hallander could push for a spot in the NHL lineup as soon as this coming season. The Pens have quite the logjam of potential fourth line wingers now with names like Hallander, Sam Lafferty, Anthony Angello, Drew O’Connor all under contract, Sam Poulin turning pro, and restricted free agents in Zach Aston-Reese ad Radim Zohorna that could also be considered.
  • The health status of Malkin (who had knee surgery in early June) factored into the Pens’ expansion decisions to protect centers like Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger. More importantly, there was further talk about Malkin missing the start of the regular season in October: “There’s still some uncertainty with the start of the year. So when we looked at the center position, it’s the one that lacked the most depth. We felt it was important to protect that.”
  • Also on Malkin: “Geno’s doing well.”