Ranking the 5 Best Landing Spots for Penguins Defenseman Kris Letang

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2022

Ranking the 5 Best Landing Spots for Penguins Defenseman Kris Letang

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    After their first-round collapse against the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins now have to decide between propping a championship window with expensive aging stars or letting it slam shut with a full commitment to cheaper talent.

    Among their many offseason decisions is what to do with defenseman Kris Letang, whom they drafted 17 years ago. Letang has played every minute of his career in Pittsburgh and has three Stanley Cup rings in his jewelry box.

    The right-shot blueliner just completed the final season of an eight-year, $58 million contract extension that he signed in 2013 and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

    Will the Penguins, who signed winger Bryan Rust to a six-year, $30.75 million extension on Saturday, spend some of their remaining money to keep Letang? Or will he play home games in a different city for the first time next season?

    The B/R hockey team considered those questions and others while ranking the five best destinations for the 35-year-old, considering the available cash on hand and prospects for winning in those cities alongside intangible factors like hometown sentiment and nostalgia that may play a role come decision time.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with and share your opinion in the comments.

5. Detroit Red Wings

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Detroit Red Wings probably won't win the Stanley Cup next season. So if Letang is looking for a deep playoff run when considering his next team, the Motor City likely won't make the final cut.

    But when it comes to playing hockey overall, he could do worse.

    The Red Wings have a budding star on the blue line in Calder Trophy finalist Moritz Seider and more than enough cap space—nearly $36 million, in fact—to make a deal work to Letang's satisfaction.

    Letang would not only be a boon for whichever coach replaces Jeff Blashill, but his smarts and locker room mojo could also be just what the doctor ordered for a youth-laden group.

    Depending on Letang's priorities, Detroit could make some sense for him.

4. Buffalo Sabres

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres likely won't win the Cup next year, either. But if Letang prioritizes chasing the biggest bag instead of the pursuit of a title, Buffalo could make a lot of sense, too.

    Like the Red Wings, the Sabres—and a lot of the teams at the bottom of the standings—have money to spend. They wouldn't have an issue fitting Letang into their $43.1 million in cap space.

    And things in Western New York are a bit better than they are southeastern Michigan.

    Letang could slide in alongside 2021 No. 1 overall pick Owen Power to form an offensively blessed tandem on a Buffalo blue line that also boasts 2018's No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin.

    Dahlin was an All-Star last season and appears to have a particularly high ceiling. And it's hard to imagine a better way to reach it than providing access to a three-time Cup champ whose own game is still elite.

3. Anaheim Ducks

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    There's little to distinguish Buffalo from Anaheim in terms of Letang landing spots. Both are young teams whose needles have started moving to positive territory, as evidenced by Anaheim's strong start to the 2021-22 season and Buffalo's solid finish.

    Maybe it comes down to the same thing that many pre-retirement decisions are based on: weather.

    The Southern California climate may be more palatable for a guy who's spent his professional life in western Pennsylvania. A credible puck-mover like Letang could enjoy triggering a fast-break offense with prolific forwards like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry.

    Cam Fowler is the only Ducks defenseman signed past next season, and it isn't hard to envision new general manager Pat Verbeek, a veteran of more than 1,400 NHL games as a player, opting for the sort of sage wisdom he provided during late-career stops in New York, Detroit and Dallas.

    With more than $40 million in cap space available, the Ducks have a compelling case for Letang.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    After 17 seasons in the black and gold, it's no stretch to suggest that Letang will stay in Pittsburgh.

    General manager Ron Hextall and team president Brian Burke are both hockey lifers who understand the value of guys who've been there and done that, which Letang unquestionably has. He's comfortable in the city, he's respected in the locker room, and he's a signature piece of an organization with a tradition of success.

    That'll matter as they try to piece together a renewed push for another banner.

    Could Letang make more elsewhere? Probably. But it'd be just as difficult for a lifelong Penguin to voluntarily walk out the door as it would be for Burke and Hextall to decide the time has come to let him go.

    It should surprise no one if Letang is back in Pittsburgh next season.

1. Montreal Canadiens

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    Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

    While Letang may be tempted to stay with the only NHL franchise he's ever played for, he has perhaps even more reason to head to another one that'd provide a chance to go home.

    Letang was born in Montreal, is a former client of new Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes, and he would instantly slide in as a high-profile Quebec native with an organization steeped in tradition.

    And the team isn't too far from legitimate contention, either.

    Though the Canadiens had a forgettable 2021-22 campaign, they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final the previous season. Carey Price is expected back in the net—not the worst selling point for a defenseman—and they have a handful of prolific youngsters like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki to whom Letang could be tasked with moving the puck. 

    The Canadiens have the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft this summer, too, which could mean the arrival of even more talent.

    Other teams have plenty to offer Letang as well, but no destination can boast the package of emotional connection, competitive credibility and financial windfall that Montreal can. 

    All salary-cap information via CapFriendly.

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