Bryan Rust has exploded on the scene with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the past few seasons. He’s been arguably one of their most consistent wingers and has been monumental to both Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017. Now, with his contract expiring after this season, Rust’s future with the Penguins looks uncertain as he may want to test free agency.
Rust’s Career So Far
The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Rust 80th overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft. He then spent the next four years with the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the NCAA. He then made the transition to the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2014-2015 season. That same year, he appeared in 14 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring one goal and gathering two points.
The next season, he appeared in 41 regular-season games, amassing 11 points. In the postseason, Rust played in every one of Pittsburgh’s 23 games and scored nine points. His performance undoubtedly influenced Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup victory over the San Jose Sharks. In the 2016-2017 postseason, he scored another nine points and captured another Stanley Cup victory over the Nashville Predators.
Since then, Rust has developed into a top-six winger. In the past three seasons, he’s played 183 games. In those games, he scored 67 goals and 133 points. This production is more than enough to earn him a fairly hefty contract with any team. However, with some more pressing players needing to be re-signed, it doesn’t look good for Rust.
In short, the Penguins are in deep trouble this offseason. A whopping total of 14 contracts are expiring, including two of the infamous “Big Three.” Evgeni Malkin‘s current $9.5 million contract is set to expire as is Kris Letang‘s $7.25 million contract. It goes without saying that these two are undoubtedly the top priority for the Penguins.
Malkin is unlikely to accept any sort of pay cut, and Letang could give a little bit, but not much. Then, after Pittsburgh re-signs these two, there’s the case of Kasperi Kapanen. He’s been playing excellent hockey this season and could be in store for a solid contract as well. After Malkin and Letang, Kapanen is certainly the top priority.
Pittsburgh also has to worry about Jeff Carter, who is likely to accept a contract of lesser value than what he currently has. There’s also Evan Rodrigues, who’s been exceptional this season and deserves a bit of a raise. When considering all of these options, there just doesn’t seem like there’s much room for Rust and his certain pay raise. The way it is looking right now, general manager Ron Hextall has three options.
The first option is to somehow make room for him in terms of cap space. This would certainly mean that either Letang or Malkin has to accept a decent pay cut. Even taking $2 million or $3 million off of their extensions could mean the likelihood of Rust staying increases. Seeing as how Pittsburgh’s Big Three are in it to win it, they could take a pay cut.
The second option involves trading Rust at the trade deadline. If Hextall figures that Rust is going to walk in free agency, then there’s always the chance he could be traded for assets. Rust could certainly bring Pittsburgh a prospect or some draft picks, or perhaps even a combination of the two. They could also trade him to a Stanley Cup contender possibly for a first-round pick.
The third option is the outcome that no fan would want to see. Say Hextall decides to keep Rust past the trade deadline for a playoff run, but then walks away in free agency anyways. It’s the least favorable outcome for Pittsburgh, but possible, nevertheless. Either way, fans should prepare themselves for one of these three outcomes, and even possibly prepare for saying farewell to Rust. Only time will tell.
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