Hextall says the Penguins’ “focus” is on signing Malkin and Letang


Hextall says the Penguins' "focus" is on signing Malkin and Letang

Ron Hextall said a few words at his end-of-season press conference Monday, but did it really mean much? In this position he cannot guarantee the biggest items on his to-do list with the negotiations for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, but he cannot dismiss anything either.

The bottom line largely echoes what the players said in their final interviews of the season last week: The team wants both star players back, just as both Letang and Malkin have stated they want to be back in Pittsburgh for next season and beyond . Hextall even mentioned that he hopes they both retire in Pittsburgh, which I’m not sure he’s ever said so clearly before.

You can watch the entire press conference here if you want to hear the Penguins GM give his thoughts and perspective on the moment.

Hextall was broad-based and danced around a bit, such as when asked directly if it was realistic that Pittsburgh could bring back both star players.

“We’ve had conversations recently and will continue to have those conversations,” Hextall began. “We would like to re-sign both players. I think you look at them individually, they’ve both been here for 16 years. Geno was obviously a great player, certainly one of the best players in the history of the game. We would like to keep him for the rest of his Pittsburgh Penguin career. In a perfect world, Geno retires a penguin, I think ‘Tangier’ is the same. You’ve been here just as long. These two are generation players. They don’t come up often. We would like to keep her here until the end of her career.”

He didn’t stop there, moving on to the realities of dealing with the salary cap.

“Of course we have some issues in areas that we need to work through in relation to the salary cap. Everything has to fit together, that’s a mystery now. I wish we had more pieces in place to make it a little clearer. But it’s hard to even guess where we’ll end up. We’ve got some tracks, we’ve got numerous outlines of teams that we’d like to bring in. Obviously the numbers are important. We will continue to work with both guys and hopefully come to an agreement at some point. I don’t have a schedule.”

Some mixed messages from “we’d love to re-sign both players” in one breath to “it’s hard to guess where we’ll end up” in the next breath. The emerging, not-so-confidence-inspiring words “wish” and “hopefully” aren’t very reassuring either, as if Hextall is telling everyone that his hands are tied and that he has too much outside of his control with the current salary cap and structure.

At the same time, it’s difficult to be overly critical of Hextall or to closely analyze every word given his goals. A bit of duplicity is necessary in this situation – it doesn’t help what he’s reportedly trying to do (re-signing two star players) when he insists he’d move heaven and earth to bring both veterans back. Hextall is always the smart negotiator and will not show his hand.

Actions speak louder than words, of course. And in today’s 32 Thoughts podcast, here’s what Elliotte Friedman had to say about the latest on the situation from his perspective:

“One of the things I heard was that the $5,125 number (that Bryan Rust signed for) is very close to what Rust and the team wanted. No one got 100% of what they wanted here, but they got to a point where it was close enough that everyone was happy enough to shake hands and say, “That’s good.” I think that will be harder to achieve in Malkin’s case. It sounds to me like they’re closer in Letang’s case – but what it tells me is that the penguins are saying, ‘We’ll give a little, but you’ve got to give a little too’.

Friedman said earlier last week that the Pens allegedly offered Letang a four-year deal for nearly his previous $7.25 million Cap hit. If that’s roughly true, it’s easier to understand why Friedman believes this negotiation is currently closer to a resolution — in most reports (including Friedman’s last week), Pittsburgh has offered Malkin a significant pay cut.

Malkin was open to compromise at his press conference, but also had the line “I think good players sign good contracts” to indicate that the Pens needed to reach at least an openly unknown salary level in order to sustain his future services.

Despite Hextall’s stated interest in retiring Malkin as a penguin, the team has yet to reach that threshold. With just over seven weeks until NHL Free Agency opens on July 12, the two teams still have time to see if they can find those common ground like Hextall did with Rust.

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