The plugged in voice of Pierre LeBrun had some updates and reporting regarding upcoming free agents, including setting the stage for where the Penguins are at in negotiations with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin.
LeBrun’s reporting repeats a familiar and fairly consistent story from what (little) information has gotten out there about the current situation. As Letang and others have said, general manager Ron Hextall does not want to have details slip out to the public or negotiate through the press.
LeBrun’s information for today is fairly consistent what others have said lately. Talks between Pittsburgh and their two biggest free agents have been fairly regular and remain ongoing.
Sticking points still remain, which is obvious enough being as no contracts have been announced or signed yet. LeBrun mentioned that there remains a gap in contract length desired between team and player for Letang. Regarding Malkin, it’s the other main contract component (money) that both sides need to get closer on in order to reach an agreement.
LeBrun was more optimistic at this point on Malkin, saying he thought a deal with the Penguins “eventually gets done”. When it came to Letang, LeBrun said he thought it was “a “tough one to predict” how the negotiation would conclude.
NHL free agency starts on July 13th.
With negotiations continuing, at some point in the next month or so, it is going to have to be decision time for Hextall as far as just how he wants to put the pieces of this big puzzle together.
From most reports, it sounds as if the team and Letang are fairly close enough to compromise on money — the decision will come down to if Hextall wants to sign a 35-year old defenseman to a multi-year (and that probably means four or five year) contract. While the stance of most fans is something like “who cares about term or what the team looks like in four or five years?” the answer is that the general manager of the team’s job is to care about what the team looks like in the short and longer term future. It would perhaps still make sense at the end of the day for the team to gamble on the distant future and focus primarily on retaining the player, but that question is probably a bigger and riskier ask than the surface level take regarding it.
This is probably the reason that LeBrun at this point is more bullish on Malkin’s chances of staying in Pittsburgh. When it comes to money, there can be a found middle ground or a better shot at compromise between both sides as a deadline approaches. If a GM is just staunchly set in believing it’s not wise to give a long contract to an already older player and the player is just as determined to secure a multi-year contract, there’s not much compromise in those kind of stances that are more philosophical.
Stances like that, it should be pointed out, can always change on a dime for either side, which is typically what happens when deadlines near. Hextall has more than just the Malkin and Letang pieces of the puzzle to fit in his quest to round out the team. He also has to make improvements where necessary — clearing or making some cap space to devote more towards a backup goalie is looking like a must after getting burnt by injuries in the playoffs at that spot two years in a row. There’s a lot to consider and different scenarios that could work out.
With just over five weeks left, there is still a bit of time to negotiate and see just what pieces to bring back. At this point, it looks like the same old status quo could be continuing for some time, but perhaps the biggest and best nugget from LeBrun is that it seems like the lines of communication remain open and ongoing, which is always a great sign that the possibility of a breakthrough or agreement could still be reached.