Madden Monday: What Bryan Rust’s signing means for Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Ron Hextall and the other Penguins

Madden Monday: What Bryan Rust’s signing means for Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Ron Hextall and the other Penguins

Many questions arise following Bryan Rust’s decision to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One thing is not up for debate, however. It’s a good deal for the Pens.

The franchise keeps a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has scored 73 goals over the past three years. Plus, he’s a guy who can play effectively with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.

The six-year term seems long. Rust will be 36 when the contract expires.

But the cap of $5.125 million per year reached is surprisingly affordable. Many projections indicated that Rust was earning at least $6 million a year. And finding a top-six winger worthy of replacing Rust in free agency or via trade would likely cost as much, if not more.

Look, for example, at Jason Zucker. He scored just 23 goals in his two-and-a-half years in Pittsburgh, and he’ll earn more than Rust next year ($5.5 million).

But will there be a ripple effect? Is there anything that can be learned from the team’s decision to keep Rust in terms of their goals to also keep Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang?

As 105.9 The X and TribLIVE’s Mark Madden said on this week’s “Madden Monday” podcast, that’s much less clear.

“I’m a little surprised they prioritized (Rust). But maybe they thought he was the most signable of the big three free agents,” Madden said. “Maybe Letang is now more affordable? I don’t know. But I know it’s still a playoff team if you keep Letang. I also know if they hadn’t signed Jeff Carter to that deal ($3.125 million), it would be nice to have that money to work in pursuit of Letang or Malkin.

Madden said there was no more easily achievable annual average cap for Malkin and Letang than there was for Rust.

“Would I give Letang five (years) out of nine (millions of dollars)? Perhaps. But probably not. But if you do, you make the playoffs. If you don’t, you move on,” Madden said.

And for Malkin?

“He’s shot,” Madden said. “Five against five, he’s not a good player anymore. Maybe his knee didn’t come back all the way. But then maybe his knee will never come back.

There are also a few tea leaves to read about what this signing has to say about general manager Ron Hextall’s future. Many wonder if the team’s new owner – Fenway Sports Group – wants to keep Hextall in this position.

However, he has just signed this important contract.

“I wonder if he’s even going to be in charge in a few weeks. The fact that this deal with Rust has been done kind of indicates that it will be. This does not guarantee it. But it kind of indicates that he will,” Madden said.

Also in the podcast, Madden and I discuss the fallout from Rust’s deal for Rickard Rakell. We talk about the second round of the NHL playoffs, the Steelers minicamp, NIL college rules, the transfer gate and the Pirates’ 18-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Listen: Tim Benz and Mark Madden talk penguins, the Bryan Rust deal and more

Tim Benz is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.

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