Penguins extend Rust; Letang and Malkin’s free agent decisions stand

With free agent decisions looming over Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the Penguins face a pivotal offseason. A Bryan Rust extension intersects with a key free agent pick on the Penguins’ offseason to-do list.

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

“Bryan exemplifies what it means to be a Pittsburgh penguin,” general manager Ron Hextall said in the team statement. “Since being drafted by Pittsburgh, he has become a versatile player and a leader for our team, able to contribute in any situation. His leadership qualities and his experience as a two-time Stanley Cup champion are an important part of our team.”

Penguins sign Bryan Rust to six-year contract extension ($5.125 million capacity)

In one of the best seasons of his career, Bryan Rust nearly scored a point per game (24 goals, 58 points in 60 games) 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 in the age of Rust, and given the Penguins’ situation.

But Rust spends so much time with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel that it’s just hard to separate his standout results from what he really brings to the table.

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

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

Again, up front, this seems reasonable.

There is, however, room for counterpoints. 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, cheaper option?)

It’s mostly nitpicking. The hardest questions revolve around the broader direction of the franchise.

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

Two 35-year-old starting Penguins (Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang) are approaching possible unrestricted free agent status. Cap Friendly estimates the Penguins’ salary cap space at nearly $24 million with 15 spots covered.

Seems like enough room to keep one or both of Letang/Malkin, with a wide range of scenarios on how much room the team would have to improve on down the road.

But what if the Penguins won’t bring either back, or at least pay the price? It’s a debate worth having. After all, Letang and Malkin tend to miss a lot of time with injuries. These issues rarely improve with age.

Of course, they also want to keep Sidney Crosby happy. Would a Rust extension mitigate either of these losses? Will Pittsburgh make an effort to keep the gang together? These are tough questions to answer, but the Pens have answered at least one pretty big question with this Rust expansion.

Christy J. Olson