Pending free agents Malkin, Letang hope to stay with Penguins

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PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin wants to stay in Pittsburgh. So does Kris Letang. There’s comfort in the only NHL city they’ve ever called home. Success too.

It’s why neither three-time Stanley Cup champion has ever hit the open market during their long careers. Until now, anyway.

While Malkin and Letang hoped to put off any speculation about their future until early summer at the earliest, they can’t anymore. Not after Pittsburgh’s season ended with a draining Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.

Rather than prepping for an Eastern Conference semifinal, Malkin and Letang spent Tuesday cleaning out their lockers and trying to talk about their uncertain future as diplomatically as possible.

Both stressed their preference would like to keep playing alongside captain Sidney Crosby for as long as they possibly can. They’re both well aware, however, that for the first time, what’s best for themselves and what’s best for the Penguins might not be the same thing.

“I’m ready to go away,” Malkin said. “If I stay, so much (happier). If not, it’s OK. (I’ll) move my family to another city and hopefully play my best hockey.”

Malkin, who turns 36 in July, scored 20 goals despite missing basically the entire first half of the season after undergoing knee surgery last June. He remains a force on the power play, and stressed he is looking forward to using the offseason to return to form.

“I know I’m older,” he said. “I believe in myself. I know it’s (a) hard year for me, big injury, but …(last summer was) probably hardest summer in my whole life. I want to get back to next level next year and show my best for sure.”

The question for Pittsburgh is, at what price? Malkin’s expiring deal carried an average annual value of $9.5 million. While he stressed money is “not a big deal,” his next contract will almost certainly be his last chance to cash in. He estimated he’d like to play 3-4 more years and dismissed a report that said he’s considering a return to his native Russia.

A four-time All-Star who also happens to have Hart, Conn Smythe and Calder trophies on his resume, Malkin won’t lack for suitors. Yet none of them will offer the chance to play with Crosby and Letang. The trio have served as the cornerstone for a remarkable run that includes three Cup championships and 16 straight playoff appearances, the longest active streak in major North American professional sports.

“I love both (of them),” Malkin said. “Again like it’s not just hockey. It’s life.”

Letang, who at 35 appears to be getting better with age after piling up a career-best 68 points, would like to play another five years and figures to have played his way to a significant pay bump from the $7.25 million he averaged over the course of the contract he signed in 2014.

Letang declined to negotiate in public, saying he made a promise to general manager Ron Hextall to keep their talks private. Letang pointed to his long history with the team as proof of his loyalty.

“I certainly (tried) to help build something good here and obviously want to keep it going,” he said, later adding “it’s a special group, a group that can win anything.”

The Penguins haven’t advanced out of the first round since 2018. Their feel they outplayed the Rangers for long stretches during their seven-game thriller. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. They gave away leads in each of the final three games with a chance to close New York out.

The first season for new owners Fenway Sports Group — which bought the team from Ron Burkle and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux last fall — will be a litmus test of sorts. They could give Crosby, Malkin and Letang a chance to keep it going. Or they could hit reset and try to retool around Crosby, who turns 35 in July but looked as dangerous as ever against the Rangers before missing a portion of Game 5 and all of Game 6 after taking a hit to the head.

Crosby demurred when asked if he thinks he’s earned the right to have a say in what direction the club moves in the offseason while reiterating he intends to play to the end of his current deal that runs through 2025.

Besides, Crosby pointed out he’s hardly kept his desire to have Malkin and Letang stick around a secret.

“We understand it’s not something that can happen forever,” he said. “Hopefully a little bit longer we can continue to play together. It’s unique, it’s special.”

By mid-July, it might be over.

Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer won’t take part in pregame warmups Saturday night, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

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Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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NEW YORK (AP) Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

“When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

“Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

“This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

“We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

“It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

“It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

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Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.