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Kris Letang Signing Would Hurt the Pittsburgh Penguins Moving Forward

Letang may be one of the league's top offensive defensemen, but his contract will pose problems for the Penguins moving forward.
Letang may be one of the league's top offensive defensemen, but his contract will pose problems for the Penguins moving forward.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Jon ReidCorrespondent IIJune 30, 2013

With news breaking this week that Kris Letang could have been be on the move if the Pittsburgh Penguins weren't willing to meet his demands, the NHL community all over North America was buzzing over a potential blockbuster.

Well, kiss those fantasies goodbye, as Renaud Lavoie of RDS is reporting that the Penguins and their star defenseman have come to terms on an agreement:

Kris Letang contract with Penguins. 8 years / 58 M (#58!) 7.25 AVV Limited no trade to 15 teams. #RDS

— Renaud Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) June 30, 2013

When Pierre LeBrun of ESPN broke the news a few days ago that Letang had rejected the Pens' initial offer of eight years and $56 million, it looked like the 26-year-old blueliner would be on the move.

Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review then tweeted on the night of June 27 that the Letang camp was seeking an annual salary of $7.5 million:

#TribHKY Sorry, trying to rewrite story for print deadlines. Letang counters #pens offer, seeking $7.5 M annually. Story to update soon.

— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) June 28, 2013

Eventually, it seems as though the teams met in the middle, with Letang ultimately signing for an average of $7.25 million for eight years.

But was this the right move for the Penguins moving forward?

Consider this: The Pens now have $25.45 million in cap space tied up in just three players—Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang—starting in 2014-15.

If the salary cap doesn't increase from its current level of $64.3 million entering the 2014-15 campaign, that $25.45 million would represent a staggering 39.6 percent of their cap space.

Factor in the contracts of James Neal and the recently re-signed Chris Kunitz, and the team is looking at $34.3 million (or 53 percent) of its cap space used up on just five players.

While there is no doubting Letang's elite talent—he's averaged 0.93 points per game in his last two seasons—this contract will hamstring the Penguins in a big way moving forward.

Forget the fact that, for at least the 2014-15 season, they have another $10 million tied up in defenseman Paul Martin—who now becomes an obvious buyout or trade target—and Marc-Andre Fleury. With them gone, the Pens would still have a lot of work to do to stay within the confines of the salary cap.

In the end, the Penguins would have been much better off trading Letang for a package of young, controllable, cheap assets.

A trade for a young offensive defenseman along with a top prospect and a draft pick could have helped Pittsburgh continue to stock its farm system with premium talent.

Not to mention, the Pens' prospect pool already boasts a bevy of young defensemen who are on the verge of being ready for NHL action.

That's not to say that any of them could have replaced the production of a star and Norris Trophy finalist like Letang, but they could have been serviceable players that helped preserve some cap space to ensure that the entire lineup was filled out in a balanced manner.

Now it looks as though the Penguins will be a very top-heavy team that will rely on a group of stars to carry them through a grueling 82-game season and long postseason.

This team could have easily been a contender without the Montreal native, yet in a strange twist of irony, keeping him around may end up hurting the team's chances to contend moving forward.

For the sake of the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans, hopefully general manager Ray Shero has a few trades he's pursuing to bring in some players to fill out the team's roster, while freeing up some much-needed salary cap space.

 

All statistics obtained from HockeyDB.com.

All salary cap and contract information obtained from CapGeek.com.

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