Evgeni Malkin calls Pittsburgh his second home. He also believes, however, that “good players sign good contracts,” which will force general manager Ron Hextall to work very hard to keep the core Penguins intact.
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Sidney Crosby and Kristopher Letang have been the three mainstays of Pennsylvania's roster for more than 15 years and helped it win three Stanley Cups.
However, Letang and Malkin will soon be free agents and that could mean the end of an era.
“There's a reason these three guys have played for the same organization for as long as they have. They set the standard for what it means to be a Penguins,” head coach Mike Sullivan ably explained during the season-ending review on Tuesday about the importance of the line.
Malkin, he had only good words for everyone. He has indicated his willingness to stay with the team and retire in the black and yellow uniform. He seems to take a lot of pride in the feats he was able to achieve alongside Crosby and Malkin.
"It's amazing," Malkin said of his two teammates. They are like my two brothers, a Canadian and a French Canadian. It's not just hockey, it's life. We spend so much time together. "Sid" is a great guy. He's my favorite player, my favorite guy."
The Russian, who has 20 goals and 42 points in 41 games this season, also believes that the team, if it remains intact, can still aim for top honors.
"I still want to play a final or a semi-final and I think we still have a chance if I stay here. We have a great organization, a great coach and we still have a chance to win."
However, his own family will always be the priority in his eyes.
"Money is not that important, but I have a family, parents, and I want a good future for them."
The DG's puzzle will not be limited to the core. Seven forwards, two defensemen and two goaltenders will be free agents, for a total of 11 expired contracts. Only two of them, Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen, are with compensation.
Bryan Rust could well be the player who will pivot the future of the club. He has 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games this season, so he'll have the tools to get a substantial raise. He earned $3.5 million last season.
“I'm not looking to rob anyone, I just want what I think is right; a reasonable contract, he argued. I think and I hope. I'd like to think we can find some common ground."
Despite modest expectations from pundits, the Penguins qualified for the playoffs with a 103-point season before losing a tough seven-game battle to the New York Rangers in the first round.
Kristopher Letang has been sparing in commenting on the current negotiations between his agents and Penguins general manager Ron Hextall, but he reaffirmed his intention to stay in Pittsburgh.
The 35-year-old fullback had his most prolific season of his career in 2021-2022 with 10 goals and 68 points in 78 games.
"The main goal has always been to stay here and play in Pittsburgh," Letang said in his season review on Tuesday. I certainly tried to help build something good here and I want that to continue."
“When it comes to contracts, me and 'Hexy' were clear that we weren't mentioning anything to anyone. It remains between the team and me.
The former Val-d'Or Foreurs also indicated that his health was in good shape and that retirement still seemed a long way off in his eyes. He believes he can play another four or five seasons, at least, he who takes his off-ice training very seriously with this in mind.
Quebecer Mike Matheson had the opportunity to play with Letang this season and he believes he has developed a good chemistry with the one he considers a role model.
"He was one of the guys I always looked up to growing up and I watched his game.
“There was definitely a time when I had to pinch myself when I got to play with him, especially in the playoffs. I think we played well together.”