The Pittsburgh Penguins are not going to look at their roster wistfully and pine about what might have been.
General manager Ray Shero goes about his business professionally and moves on. He did that last year with Jordan Staal and may be getting ready to do the same with Kris Letang.
The high-scoring defenseman, a Norris Trophy finalist this season, rejected the Penguins' eight-year, $56 million offer, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun. That rejection has led to speculation about Letang's future, with the likely conclusion that the Penguins are in the market to trade Letang. That would allow them to get value in return rather than lose him to free agency at the end of next season.
Letang has one year left on a contract that will pay him $3.5 million in 2013-14. Letang scored five goals and had 33 assists for the Penguins in the regular season and was a plus-16. Letang has some defensive skills, but he is primarily known for his offensive talent and skating ability.
The Penguins' reported contract offer represents a substantial raise, but apparently Letang wants more.
Letang's agent Kent Hughes says that his client is not interested in playing for any other team but the Penguins.
“We have exchanged offers,” Hughes told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi in a text message. “But (we) have yet to reach an agreement. We have not quit.”
If Hughes is to be taken at his word, the two sides will continue the dialogue. However, Shero traded Staal last year prior to the draft when he rejected a 10-year, $57 million offer. Staal was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package that included center Brandon Sutter, the eighth pick in the 2012 draft and prospect Brian Dumoulin.
So, continuing to negotiate with the Penguins is one possibility for Letang and his agent, but the defenseman may not be thrilled at the idea of staying in Pittsburgh. Rossi reported that Letang was sensitive to internal criticism of his game from management and the coaching staff. Some within the organization viewed Paul Martin, and not Letang, as the best defenseman on the team.
Speculation immediately focused on the Toronto Maple Leafs as a likely destination for Letang:
Kris Letang's agent Kent Hughes on reports their preferred destination is TOR: "We haven't discussed the Toronto Maple Leafs. Period...— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 27, 2013
Top Line: Vincent Lecavalier's legacy; Kris Letang off to Toronto?; more links http://t.co/5SBg4AuziG— SI NHL (@SI_NHL) June 28, 2013
Notice the strength of Hughes' denial in McKenzie's tweet. It seems that he is trying to deflect interest in Letang ending up playing for the Maple Leafs. Perhaps that's because that is where his client would like to play if he can't reach an agreement with the Penguins.
Rossi went on TSN Radio 1050 and added to the speculation that Letang will be traded. He said that Letang would be interested in playing in Toronto and that the Maple Leafs could be willing to meet his price.
Renaud Lavoie, one of the most respected French-Canadian reporters covering the NHL, said that Letang has not come out with a list of preferred teams:
If Kris Letang has to be traded by Penguins, he does NOT have a preferred destination. #RDS— Renaud Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) June 27, 2013
Should the Penguins trade Letang, they would likely want a player, a high draft pick as well as a minor league prospect. The draft pick might be the most important part of the deal, since the Penguins are not scheduled to have a pick until the third round of the draft this Sunday.
Should the Penguins come to the conclusion that they don't want to move off the offer that is already on the table, they may want to trade Letang to a Western Conference team. That way Letang would not be as likely to come back and cause problems for the Penguins.
Rossi mentioned the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks as possible destinations.
Shero is a man of action. He has made an offer to Letang and his agent has rejected it. The draft is just days away and Shero has shown he will trade talented players rather than go back and forth with them when they can't reach a contract agreement.
Shero learned his lesson when his negotiations went long with Marian Hossa in 2008 and the big forward ended up leaving the Pens and signing with the Detroit Red Wings.
While the Penguins went out in the Eastern Conference Final round of the playoffs this year, they still have the most dangerous core in the NHL with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They will be among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2013.
That means they will not be afraid to trade Letang to another Eastern Conference team, although sending Letang to the archrival Philadelphia Flyers would be a reach. If the Maple Leafs make the best deal, Shero will make the move. Expect Letang to be signed or traded sometime before or during the NHL draft.