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Penguins hoping to keep Malkin and Letang

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall wants to find a way to have Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang stay with the club for the rest of their careers.

“In a perfect world (Malkin) retires a Penguin,” Hextall said Monday. “And I think Tanger’s the same.”

In a perfect world, anyway.

The NHL in the salary-cap era is hardly that.

Perhaps that’s why, when Hextall was asked what was missing this season from a group that let a 3-1 lead slip a way in a first-round loss to the New York Rangers, he joked “a little more cap space would be great.”

He’s not getting it.

The Penguins have habitually spent up to the cap limit during the hugely successful era led by Malkin, Letang and longtime captain Sidney Crosby. That “spend to win now” approach is not going to change with Fenway Sports Group now signing the checks after buying the club from Ron Burkle and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux last fall.

The question, however, is how much money the Penguins are willing to offer a pair of 35-year-old franchise icons who are less than two months away from entering free agency for the first time.

Letang hardly appears to have lost a step. The defenseman is coming off a season in which he collected a career-high 68 points while playing a bit more responsibly in his own end. He averaged a staggering 25:47 of ice time and said last week he’d like to play at least five more seasons.

Letang also is finishing a contract that paid him $7.25 million a season. Considering his fitness level and his production, it’s reasonable to think he’d command a bit of a raise on the open market, though Letang said last week his preference would be to find a way to stay in Pittsburgh.

Malkin feels likewise, but his situation is thornier. He said “good players sign good contracts” last week and while he scored 20 goals this season despite missing nearly half of the year while recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, he was not particularly effective in 5-on-5 situations while commanding $9.5 million. He also turns 36 in July and has missed at least 10 games due to injuries nine times in his last 10 seasons.

Hextall stressed he would not provide details on the nature of the team’s talks with Malkin and Letang, but hinted he’s not concerned about their age.

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