Tim Benz: Evgeni Malkin's decision to stay in Pittsburgh softens focus on Rickard Rakell's contract

Did you ever break up with someone after a long relationship, then start dating somebody else you barely know right away in an attempt to get back at that other person?

Did that new relationship immediately start off with a $30 million prenup?

That sort of feels like what happened when Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall signed forward Rickard Rakell a few hours after it became known that Evgeni Malkin was about to enter free agency.

I’m not going to suggest Rakell’s signing was done totally out of spite. But I’m also not going to rule out the possibility that some may have been present when Hextall made the final call to Rakell’s agent.

Alright. I’m exaggerating with that last part, but I don’t think I’m too far off on the rest of it.

But then Malkin reversed course and signed a four-year contract to stay in Pittsburgh late Tuesday night, and the tone surrounding Rakell’s contract changed.

Now the debate is about whether that deal is going to prove to be a good one on its own merits, independent of what role it played in the drama surrounding Malkin.

Don’t get me wrong. Rakell is a good player. He was a nice acquisition at the trade deadline by Hextall. I hoped to see the Penguins make a run at keeping him. I just didn’t see them giving him $5 million a year.

The Swedish winger will turn 30 during the second year of the deal. After back-to-back 30-goal seasons in Anaheim in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Rakell’s 20 goals last year (four with Pittsburgh in 19 games) were the most he has been able to muster. He has not totaled more than 43 points since his career-high 69 points in 2017-18.

Rakell did show some decent chemistry with Sidney Crosby when the two were on a line together. But it seems a bit optimistic to assume there’s a lot more to tap from Rakell than what the rest of the league has seen in his first 10 years. At least not to the degree that the Penguins were perhaps bidding against themselves with this contract.

To some extent, that appeared to be the case because I can’t imagine Rakell’s representatives would’ve swayed their client away from unfettered free agency to tether him to a city that he barely knows, with a team that hasn’t won a playoff round in four years.