Penguins' Hextall says he'd 'be surprised' if Letang deal doesn't get done

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) shoots during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Just one week away from free agency opening, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall seems confident he'll retain at least one of his marquee pending unrestricted free agents.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's NHL Draft, Hextall said he'd "be surprised if we don't get (Kris Letang) done," referring to his all-star defenceman.

"Certainly I think Kris I'm hoping to have done real soon here, but we have a few details we're working through," he added.

As for Evgeni Malkin? It's less certain. Hextall said he couldn't say he was confident he'd have the Russian centreman signed by July 13, but maintains he still intends to sign both him and Letang.

"I can't say that, I don't know that," he said. "We're still working. I spoke to him as recently as last night, we'll see where it goes."

Both Malkin and Letang have previously expressed a desire to return to Pittsburgh, the only team either has 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 crossroads. 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."

As the third of a dynamic trio alongside Crosby and Malkin, Letang has been instrumental in bringing three Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh.

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. Injuries have played a significant role in his tenure with the Penguins, suffering both concussions and a stroke before turning 30, but it appears here's likely to stay in Pittsburgh.

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.

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