Penguins sign Malkin to eight-year, $76M contract
Evgeni Malkin could not wait to leave Pittsburgh on Thursday.
He is coming back, though.
He also is sticking around for a long, long time.
“I'm so happy,” Malkin said after agreeing to an eight-year contract worth $76 million that will keep him with the Penguins for the next nine years.
The new deal, which includes a full no-movement clause, will kick in after next season.
Malkin, 26, told the Tribune-Review this contract will allow him to “finish (as) a Penguin.”
That thought first crossed his mind last summer, when captain Sidney Crosby agreed to a 12-year contract worth $104.4 million.
Malkin, then fresh off a standout season in which he won a second NHL scoring title and first MVP, heard of that deal when he was in Moscow, where he spends the offseason.
At that point, Malkin said he was leaning toward making a similar long-term commitment to the Penguins.
He was sure of it after spending the NHL lockout playing for his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
That experience was mostly positive, Malkin said.
However, he was not fond of the long flights, lengthy practices and all the attention that came with being a superstar Russian in that country's most prominent professional sports league.
Malkin preferred playing in Pittsburgh with Crosby, not being the Crosby of Metallurg and Russia.
“I want to play (with) Sid, not be Sid,” Malkin said recently.
“It is good for me with Pittsburgh. I want to stay if they want me.”
The Penguins want Malkin, whom management considers one of two true franchise players along with Crosby.
By getting Malkin's contract completed, general manager Ray Shero set the table for his Penguins in the short and long term.
The NHL salary cap is set for $64.3 million next season.
The year after is anybody's guess, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that projected revenues for next season will equal the record $3.3 billion from the 2011-12 season — the last full campaign before the four-month lockout.
The cap is tied to revenue, though not in the exact manner as was the case during the last labor contract (2005-12). The salary cap increased every season during the last labor contract, and that is the early prognostication for this period of owners-players peace.
Malkin will count $9.5 million against the cap on his new deal. Crosby counts only $8.7 million because he signed for a longer term on a front-loaded contract — options not available to Malkin because of the new labor contract.
Crosby and Malkin will count $18.2 million against the Penguins' cap starting in 2014-15.
They would take up 28.3 percent of the Penguins' space if the cap does not increase through the duration of the labor contract. That is 2.3 percent less than the cap space they took up at the low point — 2009-10, when the cap was set at $56.8 million — on their current deals.
By getting Crosby and Malkin to take less than market value on their third contracts — Crosby could have maxed out at $14.08 million annually, Malkin at $12.88 million — the Penguins will have enough space to build around their cornerstone centers.
Actually, they probably will have more cap space to do so than at any previous point.
Agreeing to terms with Malkin was the first part of an “action plan,” Shero said Thursday.
He would not specify the next move, but it involves winger Pascal Dupuis.
Shero is expected to open negotiations with Dupuis' agent, Allan Walsh, next week. Shero at least would like to know if Dupuis is set on testing the free-agent market when it opens July 5.
Dupuis is one of seven Penguins, including five forwards, set to become an unrestricted free agent. He is the top priority to retain for several reasons — notably, his status as Crosby's preferred right winger and also his standing as a dressing-room leader.
The open market entices Dupuis, who made $1.5 million each of the past two seasons in which he scored a total of 45 goals, only two coming on the power play.
Tugging at him, though — and this is something Shero will point out in negotiations — are ties to the region. Dupuis and his family have grown fond of Pittsburgh and the Penguins organization, and comfort is a factor for a 34-year-old self-described “family man.”
Dupuis, a Montreal native, seeks a four-year deal because this contract could prove to be his last.
The Penguins would prefer a three-year term, but adding a year might score them cap relief.
The labor contract allows impending free agents to speak with other clubs before July 5. The Penguins would like to prevent Dupuis from choosing that option, but mostly they want to know by July 4 where they stand in his plans.
He might explore that open period but choose to sign with the Penguins before free agency opens, especially if a three-year offer from Shero is in the $10.5 million range.
In the mix
While Dupuis is the Penguins' next man up in the short term, defenseman Kris Letang fills that role for the long term.
Like Malkin, he can agree to an extension this summer. Unlike Malkin, Letang has not indicated he will take less than market value.
There is no market for Letang because the 27-year-old would be the first in-his-prime elite defenseman to hit the open market in the new labor agreement.
A first-time finalist for the Norris Trophy (top defenseman), Letang has the clout to ask for at least double his current salary ($3.5 million), in addition to a max-length deal (eight years) with a no-movement clause.
His tenure with the Penguins likely is nearing an end and not just because management and coaches believe Paul Martin was actually the club's top defenseman this season.
That is the first strike against Letang potentially re-signing with the Penguins.
The second is he plays the position at which the organization is deepest — including Simon Despres, who is top-four ready, according to coach Dan Bylsma — at the prospect level.
The third is Letang wants a full no-movement clause, and Shero will not give that to any player other than Crosby and Malkin. To do so would be to court roster-building limitations.
Center Jordan Staal, in near-identical contractual situation last June, was traded after he rejected a take-or-leave offer. The return for Staal from Carolina was a first-round pick, a roster player and a top prospect.
Shero would want at least that much — and probably a second roster player — for Letang.
“We have some big decisions coming up here the next few weeks,” Shero said. “We'd like to try and sign (Letang). He's a very good defenseman.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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