The Pittsburgh Penguins wasted little time re-signing Bryan Rust, inking the 30-year-old winger to a six-year contract extension. However, the move raises questions over whether they can afford to retain their remaining free agents, especially Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes the Rust signing indicates the Penguins won't be rebuilding under Fenway Sports Group, who purchased the club in November. It also means Ron Hextall won't be replaced as general manager.
Vensel pointed out Rust's new contract left the Penguins with 15 players under contract for 2022-23 with $24 million in cap space. He speculated there could be room to bring back Malkin and Letang if both players can reach a compromise with management. However, it could make it difficult to retain fellow UFAs such as Rickard Rakell and Evan Rodrigues.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman last week cited a report by The Athletic's Rob Rossi claiming the Penguins offered Malkin and Letang three-year contracts worth $15 million. He indicated hearing Malkin and the club discussed a three-year deal but remain apart on the dollars. Letang, meanwhile, apparently seeks a four-year deal worth slightly less than his current $7.25-million cap hit.
The Penguins might have to shed salary to retain Malkin and Letang even if they sign more affordable deals. Pittsburgh Hockey Now's Dave Molinari suggested Jason Zucker, Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and Brian Dumoulin among his list of trade candidates. However, they all carry annual average values exceeding $4 million along with injury histories or reputations for inconsistent play.
It could come down to signing one or the other. Letang seems the likely choice as the 35-year-old rearguard is coming off a career-best 68-point season.