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Keeping Pens in the flock

Soon to be RFAs Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal could cause financial problems for the Penguins. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Soon to be RFAs Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal could cause financial problems for the Penguins. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Speculation continues to swirl over the status of impending Pittsburgh Penguins free agents.

Recent reports suggest Penguins GM Ray Shero is intent on re-signing right winger Marian Hossa and defenseman Brooks Orpik, who are eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Hossa and Orpik have shown a willingness to accept less than market value to stay with the Penguins, but it must be remembered market value for Hossa starts at $8 million per season, while Orpik’s begins around $4 million.

Don’t expect any significant hometown discounts from either player, meaning it’ll likely cost the Penguins more than $10 million per season to retain Hossa and Orpik.

Fellow UFA left winger Ryan Malone appears to be the odd man out and it’s believed Shero could shop Malone’s rights before July 1 if Hossa signs a new contract.

Reports out of Columbus suggest the Blue Jackets are interested in Malone and could be the front-runners for his services.

It’s possible Penguins management will allow Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson to negotiate with Malone and his agent, and should they agree on a deal, the Jackets would then ship a player, prospect or draft pick to the Penguins, depending on their asking price.

If Malone didn’t agree on a new contract and opted for free agency Howson wouldn’t have to send the Penguins anything.

Shero is also taking goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to salary arbitration, but this was done to buy more negotiating time with the Fleury camp. The case is not expected to reach an arbiter as Fleury’s agent and Shero could have a new contract in place before then.

Evgeni Malkin won’t be a restricted free agent until next summer, but in a recent interview he suggested he could sign a contract extension with the Pens early next month.

Malkin also dismissed rumors he was seeking a deal similar to the 13-year contract recently signed by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, suggesting he’d be willing to sign a deal half that length and perhaps for less than the $8.7 million per season teammate Sidney Crosby will start earning next season.

Still, that hasn’t stopped speculation that even if Malkin re-signs this summer the Penguins could eventually face the possibility of trading him, especially if Hossa is re-signed to a lucrative long-term contract.

It’s also believed the Penguins will try to sign center Jordan Staal - like Malkin an RFA a year from now - to a contract extension, but there’s talk Staal is unhappy with his role as third-line center and his agent might push him to wait and see what kind of offer sheets he might command next year.

Trading Malkin and re-signing Staal would obviously be the most sensible financial move, but it remains to be seen if Penguins management would consider that option.

It’ll take several weeks until the Penguins sort out their free agent situation, but it’s apparent they won’t be able to retain everybody and the players they sign first could have an impact upon the future of other free agents – present and future.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.

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