Penguins general manager Ray Shero has been very busy this past week. On Wednesday, he signed head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden to contract extensions. On Thursday, Shero agreed to terms with superstar center Evgeni Malkin on an eight-year, $76 million contract extension.
With the team’s top priorities accomplished, they’ll turn their attention to other matters. The Penguins have a lot of decisions to make in the upcoming days regarding their roster. Several players are unrestricted free agents and Pittsburgh will have to decide whom they want back and at what price.
The most intriguing decision for the Penguins is what to do in regards to All-Star defenseman Kris Letang, who will be entering the final year of his contract.
The Penguins have several options on the table – re-sign Letang long-term; trade him for assets; or let him play out the final year of his contract.
There is no doubt what the team would prefer.
“At this point we would like to sign him and keep him here,” Shero said. “He’s a very good defenseman and they’re very hard to find. “
But the Penguins haven’t opened up negotiations yet for Letang. That will take place in the next few days as both sides try to come to an agreement.
“We’ll turn our attention to Kris over the next little bit and see where we are, have those conversations and see exactly if they’re in the same ballpark of what we’re thinking,” Shero said. “Until we get to those discussions, I don’t know what his expectations are. Does he want to be here? Somewhere else? It’s hard for me to know what Kris’ intentions are until I get into some sort of discussions with his agent and Kris.”
Letang, 26, enjoyed his best professional season after posting 38 points (5G-33A) in 35 games – over a point per game – and averaging a team-best 25:38 minutes per game. He finished ranked first in the NHL in assists and tied for points despite playing only 35 contests.
For his efforts, Letang was nominated for his first-ever Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. The award winner will be announced Saturday.
“He certainly is a key player for us,” Shero said. “He’s a young player. I do believe that the best days of his career are ahead of him.”
Letang’s stellar season and Norris Trophy nomination put him in line for a nice pay raise from his current $3.5 million salary. The Penguins have to determine what they’re willing to pay to keep him.
If the two sides cannot come to an agreement then the Penguins can either trade Letang for return assets or enter the season with him in the final year of his contract and make a final run, then try to sign him following the season.
The Penguins had a similar situation occur last season with one of their “core” players. Center Jordan Staal was entering the final year of his contract and both sides tried to come to an agreement that would keep him with the Penguins long-term. However, the deal fell through and the Penguins traded Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for the eighth-overall pick (Derrick Pouliot), center Brandon Sutter and prospect Brian Dumoulin.
Shero left all options on the table regarding Letang.
“If we don’t have a deal by the draft, does that mean we’re trading him? I can’t speculate that. I don’t even know,” he said. “I don’t want to say a player can’t be traded or will never be traded. It’s hard to do that. We’re going to get to those discussion and see, make some decisions and maybe we get into July or August with Kris Letang on a one-year contract.
“He’s under contract for next year. He doesn’t have any clause in his contract for a no-move or block whatever we would try to do, or want to do. Having said that, I want to try and get to Kris and see exactly what they have in mind, and see whether or not that will work for us. Then we can make some decisions.”