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Penguins extend Rust; Letang, Malkin free agent decisions remain

Penguins extend Rust; Letang, Malkin free agent decisions remain

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 27: Bryan Rust #17 talks with Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game against the Detroit Red Wings at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 27, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

With free agent decisions looming regarding Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the Penguins face a pivotal offseason. A Bryan Rust extension crosses one key free agent choice off the Penguins’ offseason to-do list.

The Penguins confirmed a six-year, $30.75 million ($5.125M cap hit) contract extension for Bryan Rust, who turned 30 on May 11.

“Bryan exemplifies what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin,” GM Ron Hextall said in the team statement. “Since being drafted by Pittsburgh, he has developed into a versatile player and leader on our team, capable of contributing in any situation. His leadership qualities and experience as a two-time Stanley Cup champion is an important piece of our team.”

Penguins sign Bryan Rust to six-year contract extension ($5.125M cap hit)

In one of the best seasons of his career, Bryan Rust almost managed a point-per-game (24 goals, 58 points in 60 contests) during the regular season. Rust also generated eight points in the Penguins’ seven-game series with the Rangers.

If you consider production without context, this is a slam-dunk extension. Even at Rust’s age, and given the Penguins’ situation.

But Rust spends so much of his time with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel that it’s simply difficult to separate his outstanding results with what he truly brings to the table.

Whatever happens, the Penguins could keep a high-level top line together at a team-friendly price. Sidney Crosby’s $8.7M cap hit runs through 2024-25, while Jake Guentzel carries just a $6M cap hit for two more seasons.

Plenty of reasons to wonder about free agency (Letang, Malkin) for Penguins nonetheless

Again, up front, this seems sensible.

There’s some room for counterpoints, though. Considering how dominant Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel can be as a duo, would the Penguins have been wiser to find “the next” Bryan Rust, preferably at a cheaper price? (Or, perhaps, with a younger and cheaper option?)

That’s mainly nitpicking. The tougher questions revolve around the franchise’s larger direction.

[Pondering the Penguins’ outlook after First Round loss to Rangers]

Two core 35-year-old Penguins (Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang) approach possible unrestricted free agent statuses. Cap Friendly estimates the Penguins’ salary cap space at almost $24M with 15 roster spots covered.

That seems like enough room to keep one or both of Letang/Malkin, with a wide range of scenarios for how much room the team would have to improve afterward.

But what if the Penguins don’t want to bring either back, or at least to pay the price to do so? It’s a debate worth having. After all, Letang and Malkin both tend to miss big chunks of time with injuries. Those matters rarely improve with age.

Of course, they also want to keep Sidney Crosby happy. Would a Rust extension ease one or both of those losses? Will Pittsburgh push hard to keep the gang together? These are tough questions to answer, but the Pens answered at least one fairly big one with this Rust extension.