How Does Evgeni Malkin's New Contract Impact Future of Pittsburgh Penguins?

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IJune 13, 2013

The Pittsburgh Penguins took another step in maintaining a consistent Stanley Cup contender on Thursday by ensuring that superstar center Evgeni Malkin will remain with the team long term.

Per the team:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have agreed to terms with forward Evgeni Malkin on an eight-year $76 million contract extension, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.

The deal begins with the 2014-15 season and runs through the 2021-22 campaign, and has an average annual value of $9.5 million. He will earn $9.5 million for each of the eight seasons.

This eight-year deal, which includes a salary cap hit of $9.5 million, means that the Penguins will have about 28 percent of next year's cap ($64.3 million) tied up in Malkin and Sidney Crosby (who begins a 12-year, $104.4 million contract in 2013-14).

These two contracts will greatly impact the future of the Penguins roster, one that has weaknesses on the blue line and in net.

However, with two of the best players in the world on the same team, Pittsburgh will remain an attractive destination for free agents and veteran players on the trading block. This means that the Penguins will be title contenders for as long as Crosby and Malkin are on the team and healthy.

Let's take a look at what Malkin's enormous contract extension means for the Penguins going forward.

Re-Signing Malkin was the Right Decision

Players of Malkin's caliber don't come around very often. He's a generational talent who consistently produces offensively and plays at a high level in the playoffs.

Even though he was one of the many Penguins forwards who went scoreless in the team's Eastern Conference Final sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins, he was a factor in three of the four games, which is more than most of his teammates can say.

Trading a player after a terrible playoff series, especially when he has a history of postseason success, is the kind of move that impatient teams make. It is one that often sets a franchise back years.

As an offensive performer, few players have been more productive than Malkin since the 2004-05 lockout. The Russian forward has tallied 560 points (217 goals, 343 assists) in 458 career games with 97 points (36 goals, 61 assists) in 83 playoff games.

Star forward James Neal, who just finished the first season of his six-year, $30 million contract, has formed a great duo with Malkin. The 25-year-old winger has scored 62 goals in 140 games with the Penguins, and the chemistry he's developed with Malkin is quite impressive.

Center depth is a critical component of nearly all Stanley Cup-winning teams, and with the Russian superstar locked up long term, Pittsburgh has three quality centers in Crosby, Brandon Sutter and Malkin under contract for the foreseeable future.

In the likely event that the salary-cap ceiling increases steadily over the life of the new collective bargaining agreement as league revenue grows, Malkin's new contract won't be a burden to the team's cap flexibility.

What Does the Future Hold for Defenseman Kris Letang?

When Pittsburgh couldn't extend the contract of star center Jordan Staal last summer, the team traded him prior to the final year of his deal. We could see a similar situation unfold with top defenseman and Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang, whose contract expires at the end of the 2013-14 season.

As an elite player with the prime of his career ahead of him, Letang would likely receive $6-7 million per season on the open market.

Per TSN's Bob McKenzie:

Even though his offensive production has been fantastic (80 points in his last 86 games), Letang is not the type of player who should be given $6 million or more to be a No. 1 defenseman for a championship-caliber team. His defensive skills are average at best, and his high-risk, high-reward style of play results in too many turnovers and mistakes.

In the conference finals against the Bruins, Letang went scoreless and made several bad decisions that led to Boston goals or high-quality scoring chances. His lack of size and strength prevents him from being a shutdown defenseman, like a Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber or Duncan Keith.

Adding another huge contract in excess of $6 million per year to his team's payroll would be foolish of Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who has done a great job of drafting young defensemen over the last few years, including top prospects Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot. Both of these blueliners were first-round draft picks in 2012.

Young defensemen Simon Despres and Scott Harrington are ready to play a role at the NHL level next year, and in 2014-15, Maatta and Pouliot will be ready to make the Penguins roster. Maatta and Pouliot project to be quality offensive defensemen, which will help the Penguins replace Letang's skill set if he leaves in the near future.

After giving Malkin a huge deal, Shero should trade Letang for a veteran defenseman who excels in his own end (a Rob Scuderi type of player), a prospect and/or draft picks.

Which Current Free Agents Should Be Re-Signed?

Shero has many unrestricted and restricted free agents to consider re-signing this summer, including a few veteran players who have played important roles on some very successful Penguins teams. By giving Malkin a contract worth over $9 million per season, re-signing veteran free agents will be difficult for Pittsburgh in the offseason.

Here's a list of notable free agents for Pittsburgh this summer:

Player Age Pos 2013 Cap Hit
Jarome Iginla 35 RW $7 million
Brenden Morrow 34 LW $4.1 million
Pascal Dupuis 34 RW $1.5 million
Matt Cooke 34 LW $1.8 million
Douglas Murray 33 D $2.5 million

There are two players who need to be re-signed from this list. Iginla and Dupuis are still quality players and should be brought back if they accept team-friendly deals.

Iginla can still score goals consistently and play in a top-six role alongside Crosby, which he didn't get to do much this year because No. 87 missed the last 12 games of the regular season with an injury. As for Dupuis, he's a quality depth forward who can play on any of the top three lines, score goals and excel on the penalty kill.

Morrow is not the same power forward he used to be and doesn't make much of an impact offensively, while Cooke's penalty killing can be replaced by a younger player. Talented winger Beau Bennett, 21, is capable of replacing Cooke or Morrow for a less expensive cap hit. He's earned a permanent role at the NHL level with solid two-way play in his brief 26-game career in Pittsburgh.

Murray brings a physical force to the team's blue line, but he's not a 20-minute-per-game defenseman and is not able to defend forwards with good speed and quickness.

Shero has $7,876,667 of cap space this summer with 18 players signed for next year, so unless he buys out a veteran in the offseason, he won't have enough room to re-sign all of his free agents.

When the Penguins made their bold trade deadline moves to go all in for the playoffs, they knew that keeping their 2013 roster intact was not going to be possible. Luckily for Pittsburgh, it has enough prospect depth to fill the holes in the lineup created by departing veterans who aren't re-signed.

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he will also be a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All salary information via Capgeek.


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