The Pittsburgh Penguins have locked up another piece of what Ray Shero likes to call “their core” for the next four seasons.
Yesterday, Kris Letang inked a four-year fourteen million dollar deal to remain with the club that drafted him in the third round (62nd overall) in the 2005 NHL entry draft.
This signing now guarantees that the Pittsburgh Penguins will have all of their top young players locked up for at least the next three seasons.
Many outside of the organization have taken the Letang signing as the end of the Sergei Gonchar era in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have vehemently denied that 'Tanger’s' contract has any bearing on their dealings with Gonchar.
Whether, Ray Shero and company are speaking the truth or just posturing for the sake of keeping 'Gonch' and the Penguin’s faithful happy through another anticipated long playoff run is anybody’s guess.
The fact of the matter is that Kris Letang, at this point in his career, is no where near the player that Sergei Gonchar is. That being said, if the Penguins had to choose one or the other (which may not be the case) they made the right decision.
Letang is a twenty-two year old puck rushing defenseman with tremendous wheels and a ton of potential.
There is no doubt that he has a lot of pieces to his game and persona that need refinement such as his shooting accuracy, defensive zone positioning/decision making and his confidence in his own abilities.
However, he is a very solid kid, at 6’0 and 201 pounds, who is strong on his skates and not afraid to take the body. He will get his nose dirty around the net and has the ability to get himself out of tight situations with his mobility and finesse.
'Tanger' can open up the rush by lugging the puck out of the zone or making that initial first pass to spring the breakout. He is starting to hone his hockey sense and has a good feel for when to pinch and when to back off.
He is maturing as a player on and off the ice and has had the good fortune of playing with veterans such as Gonchar and Brooks Orpik to help ease his transition into the NHL.
He has had a somewhat disappointing season offensively, but is starting to trust in himself a bit more in the offensive zone and as he grows and gains experience the Penguins expect to see him flourish on the score sheet very soon.
Sergei Gonchar, on the other hand, is still one of the NHL’s best power play quarterbacks and offensive-minded defensemen. He is the conductor of the Penguins' PP despite the presence of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The reality of the situation, however, is Gonchar is going to be thirty-six years old at the start of this year’s playoffs and has battled injuries over the past two seasons.
The Penguins, without Gonchar signed, already have over nine million dollars per season wrapped up in three defensemen (Letang, Orpik, and Goligoski) with several holes still to fill on their blueline and up front. Unless 'Sarge' is willing to sign for a 'hometown discount' with a reasonable contract length the Pens may have to let him walk.
I would love to see Gonchar finish his career in the black and gold, but it may not be in the cards. If he does depart via free agency he will be missed by the organization, players and fans alike.
I, like other Penguins fans, would be concerned with how the Pens would fare next season without their leader on the backend, but hopefully those fears would be laid to rest with the prominent emergence of Ray Shero’s “core players” on the blueline.....after all that is why he locked them up..