Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will remain with the Pittsburgh Penguins in search of another Stanley Cup championship, general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday.
“We’ve got some pretty special players that, they’re obviously not in their 20s anymore,” Hextall said. “But they’re still playing at a high level. So we’ll be in win-now mode.”
Crosby, a center, has scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 14 games in the past three Stanley Cup Playoffs. Malkin, also a center, has scored two goals in his past 12 playoff games; Letang, a defenseman, had one assist in eight games the previous two postseasons before leading Pittsburgh with six playoff points (one goal, five assists) this season.
Those three won championships in 2009, 2016 and 2017, but have not led the Penguins past the opening round in three straight seasons. Pittsburgh finished first in the MassMutual East Division this season, but was eliminated in six games by the New York Islanders in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round.
Malkin will be 35 years old when next season starts. Crosby and Letang will each be 34. But Hextall said their window to win a fourth championship remains open.
“These guys have been here a long time,” Hextall said. “We had a good year. It certainly didn’t give me pause to think about what we should do with this core. I think we were fifth in the League (at 37-16-3). Goals against (155, tied for 13th lowest in the NHL), goals for (193, second), all those types of numbers were all good. So it wasn’t a fluke. I expect to have these guys back next year, for sure.”
Crosby has four seasons remaining on a 12-year, $104.4 million contract ($8.7 million average annual value) he signed June 28, 2012. Malkin ($9.5 million) and Letang ($7.25 million) will each enter the final season of his contract.
Discussions on possible extensions for Malkin and Letang are ongoing, Hextall said.
“Not necessarily eager to discuss them right now, but we see a future with this core,” he said.
The future will also include coach Mike Sullivan. Hextall said Sullivan, and the coaching staff as a whole, did a “terrific job” guiding the Penguins through injuries, including a knee injury that kept Malkin out 23 games.
Hextall was hired as general manager and Brian Burke joined Pittsburgh as president of hockey operations Feb. 9 after Jim Rutherford resigned Jan. 27. After one season with Sullivan, Hextall said they agree on how much, or little, the roster should change in the offseason.
“We’re excited about our group,” Hextall said. “Sid, [Letang, Malkin], they’re not in their 20s anymore. But with bringing (center) Jeff Carter in and really having a deep team, having a deep team nowadays is important. We’ve got a hard-working team. We’ve got a skilled team. We’ve got a fast team.
“Would we like to add a little bit of size? Of course, we’d like to add a little bit of size, a little bit of toughness. Yes, it would be nice. But there’s not a lot out there. We’ll look at what’s there this summer and we’ll make adjustments, but if we go on to the next season with this group, we’re comfortable.”
That also applies to Tristan Jarry remaining the No. 1 goalie. After taking over for Matt Murray, who was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 7, Jarry was 25-9-3 with a 2.75 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and two shutouts during the regular season.
Jarry struggled in the playoffs, losing four of six starts with a 3.18 GAA and .888 save percentage. Backup goalie Casey DeSmith, who was 11-7-0 with a 2.54 GAA, .912 save percentage and two shutouts this season, was out during the playoffs because of a soft tissue groin injury.
Hextall said his confidence in the rest of the lineup carries over to Jarry, though.
“We do feel like Tristan did a good job for us this year,” Hextall said. “We had very good goaltending from both guys. … We wouldn’t have been where we were without Tristan. We all have to remember, Tristan’s a young player (26 years old). He’s going to learn from this and he’s going to come back better in September.
“We all learn lessons in life. If you’re going to be a goaltender in this league for a long time, you’re going to have your ups and downs as pretty much every guy does.”