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

A lot of questions are popping up in the wake of Bryan Rust’s decision to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One thing isn’t up for debate, though. This is a good deal for the Pens.

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

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

But the $5.125 million per year cap hit is surprisingly affordable. Many projections had Rust making at least $6 million per year. And finding any top-six winger that would be worthy of replacing Rust in free agency, or via trade, would likely cost just as much, if not more.

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

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

As Mark Madden of 105.9 The X and TribLIVE said during this week’s “Madden Monday” podcast, that’s a lot less clear.

“I’m a bit 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 do know it’s still a playoff team if you keep Letang. I also know that if they hadn’t signed Jeff Carter to that ($3.125 million) deal, it’d be nice to have that money to work with in pursuit of Letang or Malkin.”

Madden said there isn’t a middle-ground, annual average cap number that is as easily attainable for Malkin and Letang as there was with Rust.

“Would I give Letang five (years) by nine (million dollars)? maybe. But probably not. But if you do, you make the playoffs. If you don’t you turn the page,” Madden said.

And as for Malkin?

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

There are also some tea leaves to read about what this signing has to say about the future of general manager Ron Hextall. Many are wondering if the team’s new ownership — Fenway Sports Group — wants to keep Hextall in that position.

Yet he just signed off on this significant contract.

“I wonder if he is even going to be in charge in a couple of weeks. The fact that this Rust deal got done, kind of indicates that he will be. It doesn’t guarantee it. But it kind of indicates that he will be,” Madden said.

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

Listen: Tim Benz and Mark Madden talk Penguins, Bryan Rust’s deal and more

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

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