Penguins have had contract discussions with Malkin and Letang 'very recently'

Watch Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall speak on the pending free agencies of alternate captains Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, expressing his desire to see them play out their careers in black and gold.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had contract talks with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin "very recently," general manager Ron Hextall said Monday, as the franchise continues its efforts to ensure two of its most storied players in recent memory stay with the team.

Despite the commitment from all parties to work on new deals, there remains no timeline for when Pittsburgh, Malkin or Letang will make a decision.

"We have had discussions very recently, and will continue those," Hextall said. "We would like to sign both players. We’d like to keep Geno as a Pittsburgh Penguin for the rest of his career; Tanger is the same."

Malkin and Letang, both of whom are free agents, have previously expressed a desire to return to Pittsburgh, the only team they have ever played for.

“I hope I stay here," Malkin said earlier in May. "I hope forever. That I retire here. But again, I understand it’s a business.”

After playing out the final season of an eight-year, $76-million deal he signed with Pittsburgh back in 2013, Malkin entered the summer standing at a late-career crossroad. The 35-year-old has missed significant time with injuries over the past three seasons but, when healthy, has shown flashes of the all-world skill that earned him a pair of 100-point seasons and two scoring titles.

Malkin's next contract, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, will almost certainly be worth less than the $9.5 million he earned this season, but specifics of what he or the Penguins are looking for dollars-wise haven't been made known. Earlier in May, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that Malkin and the Penguins discussed a three-year deal, but were far apart on the cap number, though Malkin has insisted that money won't be the primary motivating factor in a deal.

“It’s hard. I believe I’m still a good player. And I believe good players sign good contracts,” he said. “If I say once ‘I’m a rich guy,’ it doesn’t mean I deserve a $1 million contract. But I mean, I knew my price and my agent knew my price, and I think the team knew my price. Again, it’s business. But we’ll see what’s going on. I hope we sign a good deal."

For Letang, whose career in Pittsburgh as part of a dynastic trio alongside Malkin and Sidney Crosby saw him win two Stanley Cups, the future is similarly murky.

At age 35, he reaffirmed his place as a top tier NHL defenceman this season, scoring 10 times and assisting on 58 others in 68 games played. But injuries have played a significant role in his tenure with the Penguins, suffering both concussions and a stroke before turning 30.

During his end-of-season media availability, Letang was guarded when discussing his negotiations with the team, saying that he and Hextall were clear that "it stays between me and the team.” Though nothing has been confirmed publicly by the player or the club, Friedman reported in May that one offer had been a four-year deal, coming in just under Letang's current salary of $7.25 million.

"What I can tell you is they're both great athletes who have been here a long time and are performing at a high level right now," Hextall said Monday. "We'd certainly like to have them in the mix in September."

Amid the uncertainty over Letang and Malkin, the Penguins did gain further clarity on one free agent priority they managed to cross off their list.

Bryan Rust, the versatile veteran who was scheduled to become a free agent as well this summer before agreeing to a six-year deal, underwent a minor procedure on his knee. Hextall characterized the surgery as "just a cleanup," before saying Rust would be ready to go for training camp.

He is a very good player," Hextall said. "He's an important piece to our team. He obviously plays a lot with Sid or Geno. He can move up and down the lineup - he can kill penalties, play on the power play. That was an important signing for us, for sure."

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