The Pittsburgh Penguins have been possibly the most successful team of the salary cap era. Their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang has brought the team three Stanley Cups and has kept them competitive for an entire generation of hockey. But as that core continues to age deeper into their thirties, there are more and more questions about how much longer the three can remain together as Penguins. Recently, there has been a focus on Letang specifically and his future with the team, given that he is a pending unrestricted free agent. According to Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff, Letang’s future in Pittsburgh is unclear.
Seravalli reports that there are “big gaps” between the team and the player, with the major sticking point being the term on Letang’s next contract. According to Seravalli’s sources, Letang’s representation is seeking a five-year deal with an average annual value beginning at $7MM, and the Penguins are “simply not willing” to even consider Letang on an extension that takes him to the point where he is nearing 40 years old. Letang is currently 34 and will be 35 by the time next season starts, meaning any extension for him carries a significant risk of becoming an albatross, despite how good Letang still is at the NHL level. For a Penguins team that is navigating which direction to go as a franchise long-term, it is understandable for their relatively new management team of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall to be wary of signing Letang to such a massive extension.
The Penguins expect to compete for a Stanley Cup this season, and that’s a very reasonable expectation. Coach Mike Sullivan has been brilliant, leading the squad to a safe position near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Letang has been a crucial part of this team’s success, as he typically has been. He has 49 points in 54 games, third on the team behind Crosby and Jake Guentzel, and those 49 points rank just outside the top-5 in defensive scoring league-wide. Letang is also averaging nearly 26 minutes of ice time this season and is the Penguins’ most important defenseman by a mile. Replacing Letang would be extremely difficult for the Penguins to do, and if they have any intentions of competing for a Stanley Cup for the rest of Crosby’s contract (expires after 2024-2025) they will need to have a defenseman like Letang. So those on-ice factors combined with Letang’s importance to the Pittsburgh hockey market in general (he is nearing his 1000th NHL game and has spent his entire career with the Penguins) make his contract situation an incredibly tricky one for Burke and Hextall to navigate. But if Seravalli’s report is any indication, some major changes could be coming to a Penguins’ core that has been the heart of the franchise for a generation of fans.