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

Ron Hextall said a bunch of words on Monday at his end of season press conference, but did it really mean much? In this position, he can’t make any guarantees when it comes to the biggest items on his to-do list with the negotiations for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, but he’s also not in a position to dismiss anything out of hand.

The end result largely reciprocates what the players’ said last week in their final interviews of the season: the team wants both star players back, just as both Letang and Malkin stated they want to be back in Pittsburgh for next season and beyond. Hextall even mentioned he hoped both would retire in Pittsburgh, which I’m not sure he’s ever previously stated so plainly.

You can watch the whole press conference here, if you’re so inclined to hear the Penguins’ GM give his thoughts and perspective at the moment.

Hextall was wide-ranging and dancing around a bit, for instance on a direct question about if it was realistic that Pittsburgh could bring back both star players.

“We have had discussions very recently, and will continue to have those discussions,” Hextall began. “We would like to re-sign both players. I think you look at them individually, they’ve both been here 16 years. Geno has obviously been a great player, certainly one of the best players in the history of the game. We’d like to keep him as a Pittsburgh Penguin for the rest of his career. In a perfect world, Geno retires to Penguin, I think ‘Tangier’ is the same. They’ve been here the same amount of time. These two, they’re generational players. They don’t come around very often. We would like to keep them here through the end of their careers.”

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

“Obviously we have some issues in areas we have to work through in terms of the salary cap. Everything has to match up, it’s a puzzle right now. I wish we had more pieces in place to make it a little more clear. But it’s hard to even venture a guess of where we’ll end up. We’ve got some pieces, we’ve got numerous outlines of teams that we would like to bring in. Obviously, the numbers matter. We’ll continue to work with both guys and hopefully come to agreements at some point. I have no timeline”.

Some mixed messages there from saying, “we would like to re-sign both players” in one breath to “it’s hard to even venture a guess of where we’ll end up” in almost the next. The not-so-confidence-inspiring words “wish” and “hopefully” popping up aren’t very reassuring either, as if Hextall is telling everyone his hands are tied and there’s too much out of his control with the current salary cap and structure .

At the same time, it’s tough to be too critical of Hextall or finely parse every word due to his objectives. A bit of double speak in this situation is necessary — it doesn’t help what he’s said he’s trying to do (re-sign two star players) if he goes out to profess that he would move heaven and earth to bring both veterans back. Always the shrewd negotiator, Hextall isn’t going to show his hand.

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

“One of the things I heard was the $5.125 number (that Bryan Rust signed for) is very close to both what Rust wanted and what the team wanted. Nobody got 100% of what they wanted here, but they got to a point where it was close enough that everybody was happy enough and shook hands and said, ‘that’s good’. I think that’s going harder to get to in Malkin’s case. It sounds to me that they’re closer to that in Letang’s case — but what it what it says to me is that the Penguins are saying, ‘we’ll give a little bit, but you have to give a little bit too’.

Friedman has said earlier last week that the Pens were believed to have offered Letang a four-year contract for near his previous $7.25 million cap hit. If that is roughly accurate, it’s easier to see why Friedman is believing that this negotiation is the one currently closer to a resolution — most reports (including Friedman’s last week) have had Pittsburgh offering Malkin a significant reduction in salary.

Malkin was open at his press conference for some compromise, but also had that “I believe good players sign good contracts” line to indicate that the Pens at least had to reach some openly unknown level of pay in order to retain his future services.

Despite Hextall’s stated interest in having Malkin retire as a Penguin, the team hasn’t met that threshold yet. With just over seven weeks until NHL free agency opens on July 12th, the two sides still have time to see if they can find that common ground like Hextall did with Rust.

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