The Pittsburgh Penguins have earmarked the 2022 offseason for years as a potential turning point for the franchise. Two-thirds of the core that has led the team to its lengthiest run of playoff success in franchise history, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, were scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. In recent years, Bryan Rust has thrown his name onto the list of important Penguins with expiring contracts this season as well.
The team dealt with Rust, signing him to a long extension last month. Malkin and Letang remain unsigned with now less than a month remaining until free agency begins on July 13. However, The Athletic’s Rob Rossi reports that the organization’s top priority is signing Letang to a multi-year extension, according to multiple sources.
While the wording of that headline could raise some eyebrows, it’s unlikely that the inference the team truly prioritizes Letang over Malkin is accurate. It’s impossible to go into such a pivotal offseason without a plan of attack, and management needs an order of operations in order to manage their salary cap situation. The goal here is likely to figure out an average annual value for Letang as soon as possible so that they can make the appropriate salary cap moves to accommodate Malkin.
The last reported offer the Penguins made to Letang was “a little less” than his current cap hit of $7.25MM for four years, but that was almost a month ago now. If Letang signs for his current cap hit, Pittsburgh would be left with about $15.6MM in cap space this offseason, per CapFriendly. With that number, the Penguins would need to not only re-sign Malkin but also find a goalie to pair with Tristan Jarry and fill multiple spots at forward. It’s extremely doubtful they’d be able to make that work.
Really, all the Penguins are looking for at this point is some cost certainty. General manager Ron Hextall will need some time to make some cap-clearing trades work if necessary, but the team remains fully committed to retaining their core.