By JOHN WAWROW and STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writers
Forward Valeri Nichushkin is staying put with the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, while Evgeni Malkin’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins may be over after 16 seasons.
Malkin has decided to go to free agency rather than re-sign with the Penguins before the start of free agency, a person with knowledge of the move told The Associated Press on Monday. The person spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because neither Malkin nor the Penguins have disclosed this information publicly, which comes two days before the NHL’s free agency period opens.
Malkin’s decision potentially harkens the end of an era in Pittsburgh, where the soon-to-be 36-year-old teamed with Sidney Crosby to win the Stanley Cup three times. Malkin has topped 20 goals 13 times, and immediately becomes one of the more high-profile players set to hit the market on Wednesday.
Malkin’s decision comes with the Penguins attempting to balance their payroll and after re-signing defenseman Kris Letang to a six-year $36.6 million contract last week. Malkin had just completed an eight-year, $76 million contract.
Penguins GM Ron Hextall said last week he was not as close to a deal with Malkin as Letang.
Nichushkin, meantime, isn’t going anywhere after signing an eight-year, $49 million contract with Colorado. He spent the past three years with Colorado and is coming off a season in which he had a career-best 25 goals and 52 points in 62 games in the regular season before adding nine and six in the playoffs.
Nichushkin’s signing and Malkin’s pending departure overshadowed several other roster-related developments on Monday, with teams having until the afternoon to determine whether to issue qualifying offers and retain the rights to their restricted free agents.
One of those decisions involved the Avalanche, with forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel going from celebrating with the Stanley Cup on Saturday to not receiving a qualifying offer from Colorado.
Aube-Kubel, 26, has four seasons of NHL experience and was claimed by Colorado after being waived by the Philadelphia Flyers in November. He had 11 goals and 22 points in 67 regular-season games for the Avalanche, and had no points in 14 playoff games.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ purge of talent continued with the rebuilding team set to part ways with four more regulars.
The Blackhawks first placed veteran forward Brett Connolly and center Henrik Borgstrom on waivers with the intention to buy out the remainder of their contracts. The team also elected not to extend qualifying offers to center Dylan Strome and forward Dominik Kubalik in moves that followed Chicago trading forward Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa and center Kirby Dach to Montreal last week.
The Washington Capitals’ bid to restock their goaltending ranks resumed with Ilya Samsonov set to become a free agent after not being tendered a qualifying offer days after trading Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey.
General manager Brian MacLellan said the team went into the offseason determined to remake its goaltending and also fielded offers on Samsonov.
Payroll played a role in the decision with Samsonov eligible for arbitration. In projecting Samsonov to play a backup role, the Capitals were concerned he would be awarded a contract more suitable for a starter.
Washington was already in the market for a veteran goaltender and may now need two.
“We’re open to all avenues,” MacLellan said Friday at the draft. “The goaltending market’s changing as we go here day by day. You try and stay in things you feel you’re attracted to and might be a good fit. We’ve got free agency coming up on Wednesday, so we’ll be involved in all of the discussions about goalies.”
— The Edmonton Oilers granted Evander Kane permission to speak with other teams before he’s eligible to become a free agent. In a text to The Associated Press, Kane’s agent, Daniel Milstein, wrote he’s opening talks with other teams while also continuing discussions with the Oilers.
Kane signed with Edmonton in January after the San Jose Sharks terminated the remainder of his seven-year, $49 million contract for violating COVID-19 protocols while in the American Hockey League. Kane has challenged the Sharks’ decision by filing a grievance through the NHL Players’ Association.
— The Columbus Blue Jackets declined to make offers to defenseman Gabriel Carlsson and center Kevin Stenlund. Carlsson has just two goals and 16 points in 75 games over six seasons. Stenlund has 11 goals and 20 points in 71 games over four seasons. The Blue Jackets did extend qualifying offers to four players, including star forward Patrik Laine (26 goals, 36 assists last season).
AP Sports Writer Mitch Stacy contributed.
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