Penguins, Malkin Deal Caves to Emotion; Cap Ramifications of 4th Year

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ core, with Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby, will ride together until the end. Despite the seeming acrimony and building apprehension of parting, neither the Penguins nor Evgeni Malkin wanted to live without the other. After the “he said” vs. “he said” conflicting reports between the Penguins management and Malkin’s camp about offering the fourth year earlier on Tuesday, the fourth did hit the table, and Malkin signed.

Four years. $24.4 million. $6.1 million salary-cap hit.

Evgeni Malki’s contract story.

“Evgeni is a generational talent who will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NHL history,” Hextall said. “His hockey resume and individual accomplishments speak volumes about him as a player, and we are thrilled to watch him continue his remarkable Legacy in Pittsburgh.”

The Penguins now have about $3.4 million to spend, but Kasperi Kapanen’s new contract will eat into that or swallow it entirely.

To some surprise, Crosby now has the shortest commitment remaining among the three. Prepare yourself for Silly Headlines in 2025 as Crosby’s deal expires.

But as hockey writers scrambled to laptops to scribble the Malkin story after the late-night email, another realization hit: Malkin was just 13 hours from unrestricted free agency.

If he didn’t like the four-year, $6.1 million offer, he could have tested the waters at noon on Wednesday.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t like the fourth year, they weren’t forced to offer it and could have chased Vincent Trocheck or others at noon.

In the end, the Abyss was too scary for both. The Penguins and GM Ron Hextall did something they shouldn’t have, and Malkin accepted less than he probably thinks he’s worth. They both succumbed to fear.

The Penguins were justifiably afraid they could not adequately replace Malkin for the coming season and would be forced into a longer-term deal with a lesser center. Or worse, the Penguins could have missed the top couple of targets (Trocheck, Nazem Kadri) and been sifting through Dylan Strome, Ryan Strome, and Andrew Copp as Malkin’s replacements.

And so, on the eve of free agency, with all eyes upon them, both sides thought better of hitting the market. We’ll never know which teams would have aggressively chased Malkin or who the Penguins would have signed.

Evgeni Malkin 35+

Noted Toronto Maple Leafs Blog PensionPlanPuppets had a thorough breakdown of the new 35+ rules and exemptions. From the 2020-21 CBA agreement:

Because Malkin’s contract has a $4 million signing bonus in Year One and a $1 million signing bonus in Year Four, the contract qualifies as a dreaded 35+ contract. The front-loaded formula also qualifies.

Players on ordinary deals can retire, and the cap hit disappears. Teams which sign players to a contract when they’re 35 years old or older are subject to increased scrutiny. If Malkin does not fill the remainder of the deal, that fourth-year signing bonus makes his contract a 35+.

That means Malkin’s cap hit doesn’t come off the books if he retires. The Penguins will have to place him on LTIR which, given the state of his knee, seems plausible. However, suppose Malkin was able to pass a physical. In that case, the Penguins could theoretically get socked with the total cap hit and no relief (however, the NHL’s enforcement is both vague and soft).

The Penguins’ core will stick together through the end. It’s what they wanted, and on some level, many of us wanted, too. Was anyone anxious to hear the reaction at PPG Paints Arena if Malkin or Kris Letang returned in a Rival sweater? Ponder great legacies in the face of a #71 Rangers jersey, or read stories of empty plane seats, such as when Marc-Andre Fleury kept an open seat beside him on the Vegas Charters in honor of longtime seatmate Sidney Crosby?

It also means the Pittsburgh Penguins could regret this deal in several years, shoving the team into a rebuild because they lack the salary cap space to ice a competitive team.

The view from this keyboard is that the Penguins would have won the stare-down and could have avoided the fourth year, including the costly signing bonus. We will never know if that opinion is correct, but I’m willing to bet there will be a lot of second-guessing and complaining in a few years, too.

As we wrote on Sunday, emotion creates regret. It seems both sides caved to emotion on this one.

Instead, there is justice in Malkin and Letang re-signing. Both left money on the table in previous contracts, and players across the league will recognize the Penguins paid up.

Of course, one more good playoff run or a couple of series wins, and much will be forgiven, too.

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