When the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs in seven games, it may have signaled the end of a significant era. Many of the team’s most recognizable players are pending unrestricted free agents, including Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin. When speaking to the media today in his end-of-year press conference, Malkin made his desire to stay in Pittsburgh very clear:
I love this city and I love these fans so much. If this team wants new blood and young guys and they say to me to move on, we will see… I believe in my agent and I trust him. I want to stay here. I want to play in the NHL… I hope I stay here. I hope I retire here.
The 35-year-old Malkin explained that he wants to play three or four more years in the NHL and was effusive in praising fellow Penguins legends Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, the latter of which is also a free agent this summer. Malkin has spent his entire career to this point in Pittsburgh, a career that includes 981 regular season games, 1,146 points, a Calder trophy, Hart trophy, two Art Ross trophies, a Conn Smythe, and three Stanley Cup championships. Calling it his “second hometown” he is hoping that the two sides can come to an agreement on a new contract.
- One of the other extremely important pending free agents wasn’t quite as ready to call Pittsburgh his hometown, at least not in terms of a discount. Bryan Rust explained that he feels as though he has outperformed his contract the last few seasons and is looking for a “reasonable” deal if he’s to stay in Pittsburgh. There’s no doubt that Rust has produced much more than the average $3.5MM player the last few seasons, which have included three-straight years of at least 22 goals. The argument might be that he has yet to play more than 72 games in a single season, which has reduced his overall totals. The 30-year-old has never broken the 60-point mark, despite scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in the last few years.
- Then there is Rickard Rakell, who only arrived a few weeks ago at the trade deadline. The former Anaheim Ducks winger fit in quite well in Pittsburgh and believes it is “definitely” a place he would like to come back to if possible. Rakell admitted that he understands the team has some bigger free agents to deal with first, but is obviously open to a contract extension with a club where he believes he can take his game to “the next level.” Rakell scored 13 points in 19 games down the stretch but was ultimately forced out of the first-round series and saw just 19 minutes against the New York Rangers.