The Pittsburgh Penguins face critical decisions on two cornerstone players this summer, as they try to keep open a window to win as long as Sidney Crosby is active.
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents unless the Penguins can get them signed before the market opens on July 13. Fifteen days away from that opening bell, and there is certainly concern in the market that at least one of them might not return.
Penguins beat writer Josh Yohe wrote in The Athletic this week:
"Numerous agents have told me that, after conversations they’ve had with Penguins general manager Ron Hextall, they believe it’s unlikely that Evgeni Malkin is returning to Pittsburgh. Some people I’ve spoken with in the Penguins organization feel the same way."
Pittsburgh heads into the summer with $23.2 million in cap space with these two stars still unresolved, a backup goalie to pick up, and nine forwards under contract. Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter also were slated to become UFAs this summer, but were extended earlier -- Rust for six years at $5.125 million and Carter for two years at $3.125 million.
While Malkin has in the past suggested he could accept less money to stick around ("I'm not thinking about money. I'm a pretty rich guy," he said in December) Letang is asking for five years and over $8 million per season while the Penguins are starting with a three-year offer, according to Yohe.
Neither is easily replaceable, but while Pittsburgh would still have an elite centre without Malkin, they would be hard-pressed to fill the void that would be left by Letang's exit.
It's a turbulent and potentially franchise-altering moment for the Penguins, who will have to make their decision on two important players shortly.
"We want to sign both players...but they gotta come back at term and contract dollars that make sense," Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke said on The Jeff Marek Show. "And if not, they're not coming back.
"We should know I'm guessing in the next little bit. We've made determined efforts to meet with and to sign Kris Letang. Less determined with Malkin only because we have to know how much money we have to work with and we have to put this jigsaw puzzle together. So very direct discussions with the agent for Evgeni Malkin but less intense.
"There's gotta be some sequence here. One has to sign and then the other or maybe neither of them. But it's coming to a head soon."
The coaching carousel spins along, with three vacancies still open in Winnipeg, Detroit and Boston.
It seems the Bruins may be the next team to make a call on its bench boss.
"I think Boston is down to short stokes and I think it's (David) Quinn and (Jim) Montgomery are definitely in there. I think those are the names I'm focusing on right now," Elliotte Friedman said on The Jeff Marek Show. "Not to say there isn't anyone else involved, but I think those are the two names a lot of people are focusing on."
The Red Wings, meantime, have been a little harder to pin down and with the Stanley Cup Final now over, GM Steve Yzerman may have interest in speaking with Lightning assistants Jeff Halpern or Derek Lalonde.
In Winnipeg, the news that Barry Trotz wasn't yet ready to return to coaching left them without an obvious candidate to chase as they head into a crucial season following a playoff miss and amidst the reports that another important player, Pierre-Luc Dubous, intends to slow walk himself to the free agent market in two years.
"Winnipeg I'm still trying to figure out," Friedman said. "I do think Winnipeg, I don't know if they expanded their search, but I know they at least made contact with (Andrew) Brunette and we'll try to figure out if the Tampa guys are involved here at all."
WHY HAVEN'T THE PREDATORS SIGNED FILIP FORSBERG YET?
A trade candidate at the deadline, Nashville's Filip Forsberg was instead held on to as the team made its successful push into the playoffs.
But now the Predators, who haven't won a playoff series in four years, face the prospect of losing Forsberg for nothing to the free agent market, which would seem to be a massive miscalculation by GM David Poile should it come to pass.
The team has roughly $21 million in cap space this summer and have most of their lineup already in place. Forsberg's is the most important deal to get done and it remains unclear as to what is holding up talks.
"They're asking for well south of what Roman Josi makes," Frank Seravalli said on the DFO podcast. "I think they're somewhere in the low 8s."
Josi, Nashville's highest-paid player, makes $9.059 million against the cap. The highest paid forward on Nashville's roster currently are Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, who count for $8 million against the cap each.