With labor peace, Shero eyes signing Malkin, Letang

The Penguins' Kris Letang works out in September 2012 at South Point.
The Penguins' Kris Letang works out in September 2012 at South Point.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 11:28 p.m.

With the NHL lockout over, Penguins general manager Ray Shero and his MVP/two-time scoring champion center Evgeni Malkin finally are allowed to speak with one another.

They had not as of Sunday, but they were speaking the same language.

“We will be hungry to win the (Stanley) Cup,” Malkin said.

“We should be a hungry hockey team,” Shero said.

Both were referring to the Penguins' mistake-marred loss to Philadelphia in Round 1 of the playoffs in April.

The Penguins were favored to win that round and the next three. They won two games.

“We can talk about a Stanley Cup, but first you've got to talk about winning four games,” Shero said.

The Penguins and New York Rangers are considered Stanley Cup favorites according to numerous betting sites, opening usually at 8-1 odds or better.

Shero declined to speak about the labor contract that the NHL and Players' Association agreed to early Sunday morning. He had not seen enough details to assess how it would affect his future roster-building options.

The deal, though, should not impact Shero's biggest plans for this summer.

“I did not anticipate what the salary-cap number would be, but I've said over the years that you had to anticipate the (last labor contract) was ending,” Shero said. “And I wanted to be in a position to sign (captain Sidney) Crosby, Malkin and (defenseman Kris) Letang.”

The Penguins signed Crosby to a 12-year extension worth $104.4 million in July. Malkin and Letang can have their contracts extended beginning July 1.

The labor agreement will afford the Penguins an opportunity to offer Malkin, 26, and Letang, 25, an extra contract year than any club could if those players became unrestricted free agents July 1, 2014.

Malkin could max out at eight years and $102.88 million.

Shero did not say the Penguins would spare no expense to keep both players, but he confirmed that he and Crosby discussed the likelihood that Malkin might become the Penguins' highest paid player in terms of yearly salary.

Shero did say some things about the players he could not speak with or about during the lockout that began Sept. 15:

• On defenseman Paul Martin, fans' whipping boy because of his $5 million annual salary: “He's embarrassed by the year he had. He's promised to be the player we know he is, but it's up to Paul to bounce back.”

• On new third-line center Brandon Sutter, acquired from Carolina as part of the Jordan Staal trade package: “He's got more offense to his game than he's shown, but he kind of slides right into what we're looking to do. He's a tough player with size and good speed, and he was an alternate captain and he's only 23, so he has leadership ability that we like.”

• On the goaltending situation: “We knew (starter) Marc-Andre (Fleury) needed more support from the No. 2 goalie, and he needs more rest. Tomas (Vokoun) gives us an upgrade at that spot. He gives the coaching staff options, and that's what you want. … Depth at the goaltending position is certainly going to be a key with the short season.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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