NHL Rumor Mill – May 23, 2022
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Matt Vensel believes the Penguins’ recent signing of Bryan Rust to a contract extension is confirmation the club isn’t going into a rebuild under their new owners. It’s also an indication they don’t intend to replace Ron Hextall as general manager.
The Rust signing leaves the Penguins with 15 players under contract and $24 million in salary-cap space for 2022-23. Vensel suggests there’s room to bring back Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang if the pending unrestricted free agents are willing to compromise with management.
However, it could close the door on Rickard Rakell’s return and also make it difficult to sign Evan Rodrigues. Restricted free agent Kaspari Kapanen should receive his modest qualifying offer but things could get dicey if arbitration is required to settle his contract situation.
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien also wondered if the Penguins can afford to sign Malkin, Letang or both. He felt the possibility of what happens if they lose both to free agency is a debate worth having.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If it comes down to a choice between Malkin and Letang I believe they’ll keep the latter because they’ll need his puck-moving skills on the blueline.
That’ll depend, of course, on how much Letang wants on his next contract and for how long. There’s talk he seeks a four-year deal for slightly less than his current $7.5 million cap hit, which is a hefty investment for a 35-year-old player even if he’s playing well at an age when most players’ skills deteriorate.
Malkin, meanwhile, reportedly sought a three-year deal but he and management are said to be far apart on salary. His current cap hit is $9.5 million and while he obviously knows he won’t get that much again from anyone he could seek something in the $7 million neighborhood.
Friedman believes there’s been an understanding it could happen. He said one of the reasons Fleury didn’t accept a trade to the Washington Capitals before the trade deadline was that he wanted to return to Pittsburgh. The veteran goalie felt that wouldn’t happen if he agreed to a move to Washington.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Never say never, I guess. Fleury, 37, earned an annual average value of $7 million on his current contract and won’t get that much on the open market. He’ll have to accept a significant pay cut and perhaps a backup role behind Tristan Jarry, who silenced his doubters with a solid performance as the Penguins’ starter this season.
That decision, however, will also depend on the outcome of the Penguins’ negotiations with Malkin and Letang. If both return, there might not be enough cap space for a possible Fleury reunion.