This is another nasty side effect of the NHL’s salary cap. Fans and watchers of any given team, especially a successful one, need to start judging how much sand is left in the hourglass. You have to consider the ages of the best players, those players’ salaries, when the contracts expire, how much money will be available if they do, and what the alternatives would be, whether they’re coming through on the free agent or trade market, or prospects .
Nobody goes through that more than the Pittsburgh Penguins, because…well, nobody has been more successful than them. Three cups, I haven’t missed the playoffs in 15 years, it’s the envy of almost everyone else. But considering Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the absolute center of the organization for those 15 years, are all in their 30s, every time their season ends since 2018 has raised questions about whether the Penguins can carry on around to roll out this formation in the following season.
It’s more evident this summer, however, as both Malkin and Letang are now free agents. And apparently there are discussions about extensions for both didn’t start well. For the first time in a very long time, perhaps since both conquered the ice in black and gold, the penguins must contemplate a future without Geno or Letang or both.
The first thing the Pens need to do is shut down the noise of their playoff loss and also their regular season. Thankfully, that shouldn’t be too hard as they’ve recently been bought by FSG, who specialize in steel-eyed and unemotional analysis of what lies ahead. I still insist that they film every meeting with Brian Burke, where they try to explain to Burke how they view things and watch as Burke takes on a violet hue that only Brock Lesnar or Violet Beauregarde are capable of.
Blowing a 3-1 lead to an overrated and cheating Rangers team (I’m not shaken by that stance and you can go ahead and fight me, you in the Beukeboom jersey) certainly stings. But it is important to remember all factors. First, the Penguins have been kicking the Rangers all over the ice for most of this series. The analyzes are clearly in their favor, and as bad as Igor Shesterkin’s numbers may look, the number of chances the Penguins created actually suggests that Shesterkin Rescued Rangers’ goals, that was Pittsburgh’s dominance. They were undone by having to use their third-string goalie for almost the entire series. And when did they not use them? gassy Louis Domingue, They wanted to kick Tristan Jarry, who hadn’t played in a month, out of the tournament in Game 7. They also lost Sidney Crosby by two games thanks to a wandering Jacob Trouba elbow. And they still died in Game 7 overtime after a power play. The edges can’t get much tighter.
As for the regular season, the Penguins weren’t great, but they were closer than the gnashing of teeth emanating from the Confluence would suggest. 103 points is 103 points for sure, and the Penguins were a top-10 team in both goal percentages and Corsi percentages. They were even a bit unlucky, not even shooting eight percent in a tie, 24th in the league. They shot 9.3 percent last season and 8.7 percent the year before. You will be entitled to some more goals in the next year simply because of karma.
Which brings us to what to do with Letang and Malkin. Letang, of the two, is the one who seems to be a bit more on the decline. The Pens have protected him heavily over the past two seasons, starting an increasing percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone (57 and 60 percent, respectively). Nevertheless, Letang’s metrics have been confirmed, although he often started closer to the opponent’s net. His Corsi and xG percentages have lagged behind the team score for the past two seasons. He just doesn’t play like he used to.
And yet he had a career-high 68 points. D-men, which can give you almost a point a game, aren’t really that common. You won’t find them in the “Buy One Take One” bin. And he was unlucky, as neither the Penguins’ shot rate on the power play nor Evens was stratospheric when Letang was on the ice.
But as Letang becomes more one-dimensional, an offense-only power-play quarterback, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify giving him more than the $5 million for three years the Pens have reportedly offered. That’s not really the job description for a top pairing guy, and $5 mildo would be about the going rate for a second pairing guy.
The problem for the Penguins is that the options in the free agent market aren’t going to break anyone’s knees. John Klingberg seems destined for the exit door in Dallas, and he’s six years younger. But he’ll have even more money than Letang, and his numbers are pretty shaky too. Is it worth $7-8 million a year? contentious. Josh Manson doesn’t have an offensive side. Nick Leddy isn’t the answer to a question everyone should be asking. The pens may not have other options here unless they find a creative occupation that doesn’t undermine their depth. Or find out what role Pierre-Oliver Joseph is ready to play.
Malkin just keeps chugging on. He missed half the season through injury, and like most seasons, there were big swaths of the season when you were sure his give-a-shit meter had hit rock bottom. And then you look up and he’s back to one point per game with metrics glittering. And here, too, there are almost no alternatives that could be cheaper. Vincent Trocheck? Nazem Kadri (if we can ignore the fact that Crosby guts him on the first day of training camp)? Both will likely bring in more money than Malkin ultimately wants or gets unless he’s determined to get as close as possible to the $9.5 million he’s making now. However, both are younger if the penguins look at the post-Crosby years.
Her other notable free agents are Kasperi Kapanen (restricted), Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, and Evan Rodrigues (all unrestricted). If Malkin and Letang don’t leave and aren’t replaced, they won’t be able to keep them all. Rakell and Kapanen seem redundant, with Rakell being the superior, albeit more fragile, option. But Rakell will get a $2.4 million raise, and Rodrigues will do better than the million and the change he paid.
The Pens have $29 million in cap space, so there’s room for most of what they need to re-sign and add. So no, the Penguins aren’t done yet, depending on how they can either keep or replace their two big free agents. Like every year we do all this and the following April rolls around and the pens are 100+ points and we wonder if they can make another run from memory. There is also this time the safe money.