On the Penguins: The cost of greatness

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Evgeni Malkin is one of those rare talents who does things that aren't always easy to describe.

Or to put a price on.

His agent, J.P. Barry, and Penguins general manager Ray Shero will attempt to do that in coming months, however.

Malkin's contract isn't up until the summer of 2014, but the Penguins are allowed to re-sign him July 1 and almost certainly would like to do so long before training camp opens in September.

At this point, there's little to suggest the parties won't reach an agreement since both seem interested in keeping their partnership alive.

The interesting aspect of it all might well be what it will cost the Penguins to lock him up.

Or, more to the point, whether Malkin's average salary will exceed that being earned by Sidney Crosby.

Crosby set an unofficial individual salary cap for the franchise with his previous contract, which paid him an average of $8.7 million. Malkin subsequently signed an identical deal.

But because the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement allows Malkin to re-sign for no more than eight seasons, his next deal can't duplicate the 12-year, $104.4 million agreement Crosby accepted last summer.

Although that's one more season than Malkin would be allowed to get from any other club, other teams could offer him an average salary of up to $12.86 million per season, which is 20 percent of the $64.3 million salary-cap ceiling that will be in place for 2013-14.

Precisely how much Malkin will be offered, of course, will be determined as the negotiations progress.

There's one pretty important guy, however, who wouldn't have a problem with him being paid more than Crosby.

A guy who, if he were so inclined, would be able to complicate, if not flat-out scuttle, Malkin's negotiations by taking the totally defensible stance that Crosby deserves to be the franchise's highest-paid player.

A guy who, it must be noted, seems to have absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort.

"It's whatever is best for the team [that matters]," Crosby said. "There's obviously a different system in place than when I signed my contract.

"Like any guy, whether it's [Malkin] or anyone else, whatever it takes to make it work and make our team the best, that's what's important to me."

Language of love,

language of defense

Kris Letang was born in Montreal, where he was raised as a member of that city's French-speaking majority.

Simon Despres entered the world in the Montreal suburb of Laval -- a place where one of the Penguins' co-owners (no, not Ron Burkle) caught the attention of a scout or two while playing major-junior hockey -- and he, too, grew up speaking La Belle Province's dominant tongue.

So when those two work together on the Penguins' defense, there is no question about what language they use to communicate.

But it isn't the one a lot of people might have expected.

"The calls we always worked with [are in English], so we might as well stick with it," Letang said.

"On the ice, we don't speak that much in French."

That changes when they return to the bench, especially if Letang has detailed instructions or advice to pass along.

At such times, it makes sense to turn to the language with which both are most familiar and comfortable, so that nuances can be conveyed -- and understood -- clearly.

"When I came back to the bench, if I have something to say or something for him to get better at, I'm always using French," Letang said. "It's easier for us to understand each other."

The Week Ahead

Today: vs. New York Islanders ... New York's 6-3-1 road record, including a 4-1 victory at Consol Energy Center Jan. 29, is one of the better ones in the Eastern Conference. Pictured at left: John Tavares.

Tuesday: vs. Boston ... Penguins don't have many true measuring-stick games. This shapes up as one.

Thursday: at Toronto ... This is considered an away game for the Penguins, even though it will be their second at the Air Canada Centre in six days.

Saturday: vs. New York Rangers ... Although the Penguins own a pair of three-goal victories over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, New York has won four of its past six games at Consol Energy Center.

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First Published March 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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