Penguins News & Rumors: Letang, Malkin, Summer Trades & Free Agents

Welcome to Pittsburgh Penguins News & Rumors, where we cover all the hot topics and dive into more than just box scores. The buzz continues as the offseason has been an interesting one to say the least. Free agency opens July 13 and so far, there’s been minimal updates on contract negotiations between Penguins general manager (GM) Ron Hextall and several of the teams’ free agents. Pittsburgh is in line for one of their most intriguing offseasons in franchise history, so here are a few things to look out for as the Conference Finals continue.

Letang and Malkin’s Price Tag Hard to Pin Point

There’s no doubt where Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin’s interest level is when it comes to finishing their career as Penguins, that part has been loud and clear. The biggest unknown to this point is just how much their both willing to accept when it comes to an annual salary. They’ve mentioned how long they want to play for, both saying at least three more years, Letang likely longer, but just how much of a raise is the veteran defenseman looking for and how much of a pay cut is Malkin willing to accept?

Penguins Defenseman Kris Letang
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang finished the 2021-22 regular season with 68 points in 78 games. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Hextall paid Letang $7.25 million last season and his representatives are likely going to have a hard time landing him a raise on any sort of extension. The 35-year-old was tied for sixth in points by defensemen during the regular season and continues to prove year in and year out that his offensive game isn’t going anywhere. If we dive deeper into the money, and take Letang’s $7.25 million cap hit and insert it into all the defensemen in the NHL for next season, he’d be the 24th highest-paid blueliner in 2022-23.

Related: 3 Teams to Watch Should the Penguins Walk Away From Evgeni Malkin

As for Malkin, there was some speculation about being offered a three-year deal at $5 million per season, but that quickly was kyboshed. While injuries are starting to catch up with him, we’ve seen it with the likes of the Dallas Stars Joe Pavelski, players can get better with age and be just as effective. Pavelski just re-upped with the Stars on a one-year deal for $6 million, a number Hextall is likely using in negotiations. The Stars forward finished with 81 points in 82 games so certainly a comparable contract in this case.

The Penguins would have a giant hole on their second line and first power-play unit if talks go south and Hextall may be best suited to offer closer to $7-million annually just based on the fact Malkin’s resume speaks a little louder than Pavelski’s. As for the Penguins fan base, it seems like most I interact with would rather keep Letang over Malkin and about 15 percent or so want a full rebuild to take place.

Trade Targets Will Include Players with Term

Considering Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen, Evan Rodrigues, and Rickard Rakell are all free agents, there’s a very good chance not every one of them returns in 2022-23. The Penguins’ organizational depth on the wing isn’t strong so a trade could very well take place this summer to help round out the top-nine forwards for next season.

Rickard Rakell Pittsburgh Penguins
Rickard Rakell was acquired mid-season for some assets so it’s likely Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall would like to re-sign him during the offseason (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With some depth on defense, especially if Letang stays, Hextall could move one of his defensemen for some more help up front. Assuming one of Marcus Pettersson, Michael Matheson or John Marino is the piece leaving, it would give Hextall roughly $4-5 million to work with when it comes to the return. Some players to consider include Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund, Detroit Red Wings pest Tyler Bertuzzi, Calgary Flames sniper Andrew Mangiapane, and Vancouver Canucks workhorse Conor Garland. We’ll have to see how it all plays out with their internal free agents, but I would certainly expect to see Hextall active in the trade market this summer.

Free-Agent Targets Could Include Goaltending Depth

We saw how the injury bug chomped on the Penguins to end their season in 2021-22, so Hextall and company would be wise to load up on some more goaltending depth this offseason. While money will be tight, yes an understatement, there are a few veteran netminders who may be available on the cheaper side and the Penguins should have some interest.

Some of the names to watch include Martin Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers, who Hextall is very familiar with from their days together in the Los Angeles Kings organization, along with veteran Thomas Greiss, who the Detroit Red Wings will likely let walk come July 13. Two other names to consider for Tristan Jarry’s running mate include Braden Holtby who isn’t expected back with the Dallas Stars as they are now Jake Oettinger’s team, and of course, there’s a chance Casey DeSmith gets another look next season. His 11-6-5 record and .914 save percentage were impressive, unfortunately, injuries got the best of him late as he was seeing more action than he was used to. The Penguins are going to be fascinating to follow these next couple of months and the entertainment will include their direction in the crease.

Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers
Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That does it for another episode of Penguins News & Rumors. Thanks for stopping by and let’s see what kind of tricks Hextall has up his sleeve as the executive is trying to weave his way through one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.

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