Kris Letang: Will the Pittsburgh Penguins Sign Their Star Defenseman?

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Kris Letang: Will the Pittsburgh Penguins Sign Their Star Defenseman?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero has been very busy ever since the Boston Bruins swept his team from the playoffs.

Shero signed coach Dan Bylsma to a two-year extension, after there was speculation the he could be let go. Shero also extended the contracts of assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden.

Then there was the not-so-small task of signing last year’s Hart Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin, to an extension. The Russian forward agreed to an eight-year, $76 million deal that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2021-22 season.

There was also the NHL Awards between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, during which Shero was recognized as the league's top GM.

This was just the beginning of what will be a busy offseason for the Penguins. Next up on Shero’s list of priorities is Kris Letang. The 26-year-old defenseman has one year left on a four-year, $14 million contract, which carries a cap hit of $3.5 million.

It appears Shero has three options. He can sign Letang to an extension, trade him, or do nothing and let him play out the final year of his contract.  

Letang has improved each season and there is no doubt the Penguins want to keep him. He offers great speed and offensive skill and has proven he can play in any game situation. Statistically, 2013 was Letang's best season. He averaged more than a point per game, scoring five goals and recording 33 assists in 35 games.

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His performance didn't go unnoticed, as he received the first Norris Trophy nomination of his career.

That, of course, means he’s due for a substantial raise.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Letang will likely want at least $7 million per year on a minimum five-year contract that includes a no-movement clause.

That salary may come as a shock to some, but considering Mark Streit signed a four-year, $21 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s possible Letang could be worth well over $7 million on the open market.

Shero faces a tough task, given Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal will account for $23.2 million of the team’s cap space beginning in 2014-15. There are also still a number of free agents he will have to make decisions on during the offseason. This includes Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, just to name a few.

So, while Shero can certainly re-sign Letang, to do so he would have to invest a significant chunk of cap space in just four players. Could a trade be the better option?

According to the Penguins website, Shero isn’t ruling anything out.

If we don’t have a deal by the draft, does that mean we’re trading him? I can’t speculate that. I don’t even know. I don’t want to say a player can’t be traded or will never be traded. It’s hard to do that. We’re going to get to those discussions and see, make some decisions and maybe we get into July or August with Kris Letang on a one-year contract.

Shero has shown over the past couple weeks that he’s satisfied with his core group of players and personnel. But, if he can't reach an agreement with Letang before the start of next season, it wouldn't hurt to test the trade market. 

Remember, Shero was able to get Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a first-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Jordan Staal at last year's draft. 

If Letang wants to maximize his earnings, he would be best off testing free agency after next season. However, if he’s willing to take a little less, like Crosby and Malkin did, Letang could stay in Pittsburgh for the next nine seasons.

Shero has his work cut out for him. Although, trying to reach contract agreements with multiple stars is a problem, it's one that 29 other GMs wish they had.

 

Stats courtesy of NHL.com.

Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com

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