The Kris Letang Contract Negotiations: Part 2

Kris Letang

(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

[Click here to read Part 1]

The Kris Letang negotiations will be the most important negotiations of Ray Shero’s GM career.

Crosby and Malkin were bigger fish, but they wanted to stay in Pittsburgh and were happy to take a discount.

The Jordan Staal decision — traded to Carolina last summer — came first, but he was a third line center.

With the Letang situation, arguments can be made both to keep him and trade him.

The Penguins rely on Dan Bylsma’s quick transition game style of hockey to drive their offense.  Few players in the league are as good in transition as Letang and with Bylsma’s recent two-year extension, this style of hockey isn’t changing anytime soon.

Shero can’t replace Letang.  It’s that simple.

On the other hand, what Letang does best is produce offense from the back end.  The Penguins don’t need more goals.  They’ve led the league in scoring by a wide margin the past two seasons and have scored loads of goals even when Letang has been out of the lineup.

Letang’s offensive abilities could arguably be a lot more valuable on a team that has those kinds of needs.

And that’s what will drive the Penguins’ decision.  How valuable is Letang?

You can answer this question in a number of ways.  Years ago we noticed a trend in the Penguins draft strategy to target smooth-skating defensemen in the first round.  Shero admitted that he can never have enough good defensemen (or centers) and they could eventually be used as assets in trades.

Consider the blockbuster trades Shero has made in recent years involving defensemen like Ryan Whitney, Alex Goligoski, and Joe Morrow.  All offensive defensemen.  As we said in Part 1, point-producing defensemen catch the eye of everyone — even experienced General Managers.

Shero’s defense-focused draft philosophy has also set the Penguins up well to survive in a post-Letang era.  Only Simon Despres is ready to take on big minutes out of training camp next year, but scouts I’ve talked to are raving about Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, and Derrick Pouliot.  Some even think Dumoulin and Harrington are ready for NHL hockey right now.

When trading an important piece like Letang, you have to consider opportunity cost and alternatives.  What will the Penguins have to spend (via trade, free agency, or internally) to replace him?  The Penguins’ pipeline of defensive prospects lined up to replace Letang is impressive and could be the key to their Cup-contending longevity.

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Positioning and Leverage

The biggest difference between Malkin (a player who always seemed interested in staying with the Penguins) and Letang (a player who has never given such an indication) is that Shero actually had leverage over Malkin.  Once Malkin was committed to staying, Shero could tell him ‘listen, you can have whatever you want, but just know that every dollar you take is one less dollar I can pay to your wingers.’

Letang doesn’t have any such pressures.

He’s committed to the weight room in recent offseasons and spends many hours each week studying film with assistant coach Todd Reirden.  It’s probably not fair to speculate on motivations, but the change in focus from Letang doesn’t seem like it’s for the same reasons as Malkin, who came back from his knee injury as a very mature player.  Letang knows what he stands to make on the open market if he makes it there next summer and he’s taken steps to make sure he’s positioned to cash in.

“I think with players like this,” Shero said last week, “when you’re trying to enter into a long-term agreement with this sort of money, the first question that I always ask is: ‘Do you want to be here?’

Ray Shero Penguins

Ray Shero (Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE)

Well Kris, do you?

“That’s not my decision,” Letang said when the question was posed to him at locker room cleanout day.

That answer doesn’t make much sense, so how about this: Kris, are you willing to take a discount to stay in Pittsburgh like many of your teammates have done?

“It’s not my call,” he said.  “I’m not there in our progress so far and didn’t have a chat with Ray [Shero] or my agent or anything like that so I don’t have anything to say about that.”

Not exactly the most comforting thing you want to hear if you’re Shero or the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Letang would also be smart to leave the negotiating to his agent.  Negotiating through the media rarely works, especially when English isn’t your first language.

Shero was also careful with his words when asked about progress on a Letang extension.

“It’s probably not even fair for me to speculate on it because I haven’t even had a conversation with his agent,” Shero said.  “What I said yesterday about both Malkin and Letang is that they’re not going anywhere, and what I mean by that is that they’re under contract next year, which is fortunate.  That gives us some latitude and lee-way.”

That clarification caught my attention.

Maybe I’m reading too far into it, but Shero made those comments on Thursday after saying on Wednesday that Letang wasn’t going anywhere.  Part of any trade as a high-profile GM is managing public perception.  Shero wanted to make sure fans didn’t assume that “not going anywhere” meant Letang and Malkin were Penguins for life.

A league executive once told me to never trust anything that a GM says around trade deadline time.  I went ahead and extended that skepticism to the June time period leading up to free agency as well.

It’s not a coincidence that news ‘leaked’ the night before last year’s draft that Jordan Staal had turned down a 10-year, big money contract extension from the Penguins.  When the Staal trade was announced to the hometown crowd at the Consol Energy Center, fans roared with approval.

It was unbelievable.  A trade involving a player who had been a long-time member of the Penguins core.  I guess after hearing the news the night before, the fanbase was content getting rid of a player who didn’t want to accept an offer they perceived as fair.  I’ve always wondered how the reaction would have differed if the news of Staal turning down the offer had never leaked.

Just remember, everything in print or video over the next few weeks is being said for a reason.

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The Decision

My cap limit on Letang would be $7 million, and even at that number I’d make a few phone calls beforehand.

There’s always a chance a team in desperate need of scoring, franchise buzz, or a defenseman that can play 27 minutes a night is willing to part with a huge package of picks and players to acquire Letang.

The timing of the negotiations will be interesting.

Rob Rossi at the Tribune Review reported that no talks had taken place between Shero and Letang’s representatives as of Monday afternoon.  Rossi said talks are expected to initiate in 7-10 days, which gives the two sides a handful of days to discuss prior to the NHL draft.

Jordan Staal (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Jordan Staal (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

There will be a flurry of activity at this year’s draft as teams scramble to get cap compliant and weigh the opportunity for compliance buyouts.  If you’re going to trade Kris Letang, the draft is when you want to do it.

This is where Shero has to be careful with timing.  If contract talks with Letang stall out or end prior to the draft, his leverage with other GM’s diminishes because now he’s almost forced to deal Letang.  Shero knew he had Carolina interested in Staal last year regardless of the leak that Staal had rejected the Penguins offer.

It’d be surprising to hear a leak from the Penguins this time around and Shero doesn’t want to give Letang’s agent any incentive to kill the Penguins’ trade leverage.  If Shero decides that a trade is a real possibility, he’ll have to juggle Letang’s reps while also creating a bidding war in the trade market from other teams.

It’ll be interesting to watch.

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The Trade

So let’s have a little speculative fun.  If the Penguins do decide to trade Letang at the draft, where will he go and what will they get in return?

Shero has said in the past that he really doesn’t like to give up first round draft picks, but he sacrificed this year’s top pick in the Jarome Iginla trade a few months ago.  Derek at the Pensblog mentioned to me the other day that perhaps Shero knew he’d have opportunities to recover that first rounder prior to draft day.  Not a bad thought at all.

Aside from a first rounder, the Penguins would also need to get a defenseman back in the deal that could pick up some of the minutes lost by Letang’s departure.  Paul Martin rebounded in an amazing way this past season, but the Penguins can’t rely on him to play 30 minutes a night.  They don’t need a defenseman anywhere close to as good as Letang, but simply a good value player that can fill in until the kids are ready.

Think about the Staal trade.  Brandon Sutter is much more affordable at third line center than Staal and should develop into a very nice player.  He’s not as good as Staal, but he (and the other assets Shero received) will pay dividends in the future.

Finally, the Penguins need to address their goalie situation.  Even though I think Fleury will likely be back with the Penguins to start next season, I’ve felt for a while that he isn’t part of their long-term plans.  I’d keep an eye out for young goaltenders on value contracts with nice upside.

Here are a few potential destinations for Letang:

Colorado: The Avalanche are shaking up their franchise and have tons of cap room to spend.  It’s hard to envision them moving their top pick in the draft, but they could use a player like Letang to build around on the back end.  They’ve always been a team built around a great transition game.

Potential Pieces of Interest: Erik Johnson, Duncan Siemens, Semyon Varlamov

Florida: The Panthers aren’t quite in a position to spend big money on veteran players, but they’re a team on the rise.  GM Dale Tallon built around Duncan Keith when he was in Chicago and might be starting to look for a Brian Campbell replacement.  Letang seems to fit his preferences and needs.  Can Tallon convince Letang to sign an extension in Florida?

Potential Pieces of Interest: Erik Gudbranson, many prospects

St. Louis: Coach Ken Hitchcock models his breakouts and defense retrievals off the Penguins and the Blues have been in search of a top right-handed defenseman for a while.  They already have an impressive group of young defensemen, but could be at risk of an offer sheet this summer on Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk.

Potential Pieces of Interest: Ian Cole, Kris Russell, Jaroslav Halak

Montreal: The Canadiens could be to Letang what Carolina was to Staal — the team he wants to go to no matter what happens.  Letang has always been fond of Montreal and their head coach Michel Therrien, the man Letang credits with developing his pro game.

Potential Pieces of Interest: Max Pacioretty, Raphael Diaz

Other Teams to Consider: San Jose, Detroit, Ottawa.

Got another idea?  Let us know in the comments.

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Email: MJColligan@TheHockeyWriters.com
Twitter:

Mike Colligan

Mike Colligan

Managing Editor
Mike Colligan is an NHL analyst at Forbes SportsMoney and The Hockey Writers. Email: MJColligan@gmail.com
Mike Colligan
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Mike Colligan
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29 Comments

  1. Though I don’t really agree with any of the proposed trade partners in the article, I’m still holding out hope for a deal so that the Penguins can add through subtraction AND get a hefty return.

  2. Okay, so I know it will probably never happen but I see the Kings sitting on Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier and I think why do they need both. They will likely be rolling with Quick for the next decade or so, and why not get a guy like Letang in return for your back up goalie. That would then free us up to trade Fleury for anything we aren’t able to get from a deal with Letang. We could do a lot worse than starting a season with Vokoun and Bernier as netminders. Again it will not happen and I’m aware of that but I can dream.

  3. Would love to see letang for Bobby Ryan and Bryan Allen.. But I’m sure that is way too much for letang.. If not then see if we can get a prospect winger from them as well.. Also running into the problem of bringing on too much cap. Ryan is 5.1 and Allen is 3.5.. Maybe someone else gets thrown into the trade as well. Maybe a Matt niskanen? If that were the case we would only be taking on another 3 mil and isn’t that what we want letang to sign for? Another 3 mil… Idk. It will be interesting

  4. Montreal: The Canadiens could be to Letang what Carolina was to Staal — the team he wants to go to no matter what happens. Letang has always been fond of Montreal and their head coach Michel Therrien, the man Letang credits with developing his pro game.

    This is a bold faced lie. Letang has actually said in interviews. He HATES the Habs, as an organization, hates them. He never wants to play there. And if you have any question is Letang wants to play here. In that same interview, he says the Pens have been his favorite team all his life, and Mario is his favorite player. So he gets to play for his favorite team while being employed by his favorite player. Letang wants to be in Pittsburgh. Watch the locker room interviews again. Letang isn’t being elusive, or shady, he’s being annoyed by the reporters. It’s really NOT his decision if he stays. Sure he wants to be here, but Shero has ot work with him on this. You do not give up a player of his caliber. a 26 year old Norris Trophy finalist, who is coming into his prime. Trading him is an idea full of idiocy.

    • Seriously? The only reason they call him a defenseman is because he dresses with and sits with the defenseman on the bench. He doesn’t have a mind for defense, and is a liability on a team that has that much power on offense. If he credits Therien with making him the defenseman he is, that’s an insult to Therien. The Pens have not had a good defensive coach on the staff since Therien left, and it shows. Letang was a great asset for 3.5 million, but becomes money poorly spent by a team built like the Pens for anything more than 5 mil. He is more valuable as a trade asset to the Pens at this point. He will continue to thrive offensively wherever he goes, but is not a good fit for the Pens, who need playoff-calibre shutdown defenseman.

    • Devin, you’re the one that’s telling lies. Letang has never said any of that about Montreal. He has a girlfriend and baby in Montreal and is building a house there. Get your facts straight. And by the way, Letang idolized Paul Coffey, not Lemieux…

  5. The trade value of the players the pens would hypothetically get in a deal seems so low. Is Letang’s value (given his contract/looming FA) really only make him worth Max Pacioretty and Raphael Diaz? Is that all the pen’s can hope to get for 58?

  6. letang for subban?

  7. Pingback: Offseason Sauce: Kris Letang

  8. i wonder if the penguins could leverage goalie jonathan bernier and jake muzzin/slava voynov out of los angeles for kris letang?

  9. Wow. Terrific article re: what the Penguins are currently facing and how Ray Shero will handle the Letang situation.

    On the trade speculation…

    1. COLORADO –
    “Erik Johnson, Duncan Siemens, Semyon Varlamov.”

    Not a fan of EJohnson, but he could be a decent 2nd pairing guy.

    Siemens is a good prospect for a stay-at-home guy but will replace no offence and I’m not sold on him.

    Varly would be an upgrade, but goalies are a dime a dozen now.

    What I’d like: #1 overall (Seth Jones) + Erik Johnson.

    2. FLORIDA –

    Erik Gudbranson – don’t like him much, but along w/ the #2 overall pick, perhaps. Here, you expect Jones to be gone, and there is no other D in the draft I’d want (Pulock would be next in line, but not at #2 overall).

    Do you take MacK when you don’t need a Top 6 center OR swing for the fences with Drouin?

    What I’d like to see: #3 overall (Drouin) + Kulikov.

    3. ST LOUIS
    Ian Cole, Kris Russell, Jaroslav Halak.
    Yuck, Double Yuck, and what the…no.
    StL doesn’t have a 1st round pick and none of those players are close to interesting. Not even all 3 together.

    Don’t see it.

    4. MONTREAL
    Max Pacioretty and Raphael Diaz.
    MTL’s 1st isn’t high enough–20-something.
    Patches is a very good winger on a decent K, butDiaz is inferior. Beaulieu, too many questions. Not a good trade partner.

    5. OTTAWA
    Wow, Karlsson + Letang on the back end. Wow.
    OTT’s 1st rounder isn’t very high (20-something), but they have pieces.

    What I’d like to see: Cowen + Lehner + late 1st.

    Other possible trade partners:

    A. Tampa Bay

    3rd overall in this draft. If Drouin (or Jones) is still available that pick would fit nicely.
    Esp. if Vasilevski was offered as part of the deal.
    I think Flower plays out the 2 years on his deal, and I love Vasi to be one of the next generation of elite netminders.

    What I’d like to see: #3 overall (Drouin) + Vasilevski.

    B. Nashville
    4th overall pick.
    Forsberg (RW) and Hellberg (G) are of interest.

    What I’d consider: 4th overall + Forsberg + Hellberg.

    What I’d REALLY like to see…
    Letang RE-signed.
    8 years and $50M.

    In Shero We Trust.

    • Returns from Avs is unrealistic. Way too much. Anyway, the Tampa deal is interesting, but I doubt they would do it. Panthers deal is interesting, same with Nashville deal. Don’t forget about Carolina, they have a top-5 pick and they need a top-4 D. Also, we’d just keep Letang if he would sign for that little.

      • Fair comments. Late night spitballing, mostly. One thing I’ve learned from watching the Penguins, however, is never underestimate Ray Shero.

        • Any of the top 3 picks are too much to give up for Letang. The Pens would need to add to even get their attention.

        • Why not? Established NHL talent>>>>>potential talent. The #3 pick+ is completely a reasonable return for a player with skills like Letang.

        • EDM was looking for a willing partner to trade an est’d Top Pairing D-man for the #1 overall pick just last year

    • How are you going to get the third overall from Florida…. but if you trade with Tampa also get the third overall?

  10. I kind of hope the Penguins will find a way to make a deal to get Halak from the Blues. To me, that seems like a missing piece that the Penguins could really use.

  11. A few deals I see making sense are as follows:

    Letang to Carolina for Justin Faulk and the #5 pick.

    Carolina gets really tight on the cap (another $2.6M in displacing Faulk with Letang) this year, but Letang essentially takes Pitkanen’s spot and salary (plus $2.5-3M) moving forward. They possibly could even trade him separately this year. Pittsburgh gets a really good young OFD in Faulk and a great prospect (likely Valeri Nichushkin) at #5. I think that is a fair price for both sides and the salary cut would probably allow Pitt to bring back Dupuis, Cooke, and Adams if they want.

    Letang to Calgary for TJ Brodie, #6 pick and Agostino or Hanowski (back from the Iginla trade)

    Calgary gets a top OFD and a big PR bump as was mentioned. The Pens get back a young, cheap, capable OFD that can take 2nd pairing minutes, a great pick in one of the best drafts in years (hopefully Valeri Nichushkin is still there) and get back a versatile, capable winger that they know and can be ready for 2014 to play a swing 3rd line/poor man’s top 6 role.

    Letang to Colorado for Tyson Barrie, Calvin Pickard, the 31st pick, and maybe Jamie McGinn.

    I add McGinn because he seems to kind of fallen out of favor in Colorado. That might be too much, but I think it is fair and he is the kind of guy that I think would be a smart add to Pittsburgh to see if he comes alive along Sid or Geno. Barrie is another young, cheap OFD with potential and who can play the 2nd pairing right now. Pickard is a great G prospect who would be the future without forcing a decision (like a guy like Markstrom would) on MAF right away. The 1st pick in the 2nd round is still quite valuable in this draft where players like Emile Poirier or Madison Bowey may still be available.

    Thoughts?

    • 1st one is similar to mine, 2nd and 3rd no. I feel we could get better value than either of those 2. I’d rather do my first, because we don’t need Faulk in the long-run, while we could definitely use Tlusty in the long-run. Also, Markstrom>>>>>Pickard

      • Acquisition of Faulk would be for someone that is ready to play top 2 pairing minutes right now and be cost effective.

        I agree that Markstrom is the better prospect when compared to Pickard, but I don’t think the difference is that big and if you acquire him, you have to deal MAF. You cannot have him, MAF and Vokoun and maintain the balance with the organization IMO. Would have to deal MAF and I am not sure they want to do that yet.

        In response to NCCaniac42, no way would the Pens only take McBain and #5 for Letang. Would have to be another significant piece. McBain in 2010 (as a prospect) maybe that works. After 3 years up? Nah. He is a solid player (and young and controllable), but isn’t a significant piece. He is akin to Brandon Sutter in the Staal deal, but can’t be the only thing coming back (with the pick) for Letang.

    • Actually Letang to Carolina for our #5 pick and McBain. NO WAY Faulk goes anywhere.

  12. LittleArtie says:

    For the heck of it I was looking at destinations over the weekend, two that stood out to me were Calgary and Anaheim.

    Calgary has 3 first rounders so it’s not as painful for them to give one up. Mark Giordano can eat minutes, and while he’d be more a little more expensive next year he’d be the far cheaper option once Letang’s extension hits. And Sven Baertschi’s a pretty nice prospect, Feaster said at the deadline he was the one player who wasn’t available, but getting Letang could change that. Calgary could use a PR boost as well, and going out and getting a Letang would give them that, of course it disappears and becomes a nightmare if they can’t re-sign him.

    Anaheim’s only has a mid first round pick, but I was impressed by Emerson Etem’s speed and shot in the playoffs, and he and Bennett would make very affordable top-6 wingers for the near future. Luca Sbisa or Cam Fowler are options to come back and step into the top 4. Probably tougher for Anaheim to get an extension done for Letang because of the extensions Perry and Getzlaf signed, but Letang would give them the stud defenseman they could build around and win now with.

  13. A couple ideas I had:

    Letang for McBain, Tlusty and the #5 pick

    Pens get a 25 year old scoring winger for Sid, a young OFD to replace Letang and a top-5 pick that will probably be another elite winger in Nich (don’t know how to spell it fully). Canes are looking for a top-4 D, and are looking to move the pick.

    Letang for Connolly, Barberio and the #3 pick

    Pens get a top wing prospect in Connolly and probably another top wing prospect in Drouin. Both could slot into the NHL roster next year, so that would also give us some depth players for next year. They also get another solid D prospect. Lightning get a top-pair D to play with Hedman and a D that can QB their PP and feed Stamkos for 1-timers.

    Letang for Markstrom and the #2 pick

    Pens get a heir to Fleury (even though I’m really high on Murray) and probably Drouin again. Markstrom is the best goaltending prospect in hockey. Panthers get another good D to build with. They only had 1 D last year with more than 10 points, so Letang could go in and help a lot on their PP with Campbell.

    Letang for Nyquist, DeKeyser, Brunner and a 1st

    Pens get a future star winger for Sid, a young NHL ready D that has high potential, another young scoring winger and a 1st in a good draft. Detroit gets a D to replace what they lost with Lidstrom and tried to replace with Suter.

    Any of those good?

    • Letang isn’t worth that much…

      • Look at what Streit and Gonchar got. The demand for PMD right now is insane, prices for them in both trades and contracts are astronomically high. So, in the current situation, yes, he is completely worth those returns.

        Value is set on demand and supply, there are no PMD available, and everyone wants one. When one of Letang’s situation becomes available (26 year old Norris finalist on a cheap bridge contract), they get a massive return.

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