Penguins: Kris Letang’s Legacy and Potential Landing Spots

Last Thursday, the Pittsburgh Penguins punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders. That threshold-breaking win marked 16 consecutive years of postseason berths for the Penguins, the longest-running postseason streak among all four major sports leagues (NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL) in North America. Not-so-coincidentally, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang were drafted 17 years ago.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin wholeheartedly led the Penguins to three Stanley Cups, but not without Letang, the defensive backbone of their franchise since 2005. Letang is set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the conclusion of the 2021-22 NHL season. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Letang’s overall effect on the success of the Penguins franchise, potential destinations for him, and what role his efforts play in the Penguins’ postseason outcome.

Letang’s Hall-of-Fame Legacy in Pittsburgh

Will Letang end up in the Hall-of-Fame? The answer, of course, remains to be seen, but many would already argue that he is a Hall-of-Fame player. In 16 seasons with the Penguins, he has captured 645 points (142 goals, 503 assists) and three Stanley Cup championships. Since drafted, Letang has filled the vital role of the Penguins’ defensive captain, rounding out Pittsburgh’s dynamic trio with Crosby and Malkin.

Related: Penguins Have Picked Up the Slack During Malkin’s Suspension

Letang is not just an important part of the modern Penguins but the team’s history as a whole. He is one of four Penguins to ever play 900 games for the franchise, along with Crosby, Malkin, and Mario “Super Mario” Lemieux. In 2018, he surpassed Paul Coffey as the franchise leader in points by a defenseman. Surprisingly enough, Letang has been a top-3 finalist for the Norris Trophy just once; he is ranked third in points (645) among all active defensemen, behind only Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

Kris Letang #58, Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71
PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 23: Kris Letang #58, Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins pose for a photo prior to the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field on February 23, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Forgotten by many, Letang suffered a stroke in 2014. Given the detrimental effect of strokes, it was a period of uneasiness for Letang, his wife and child, and the entire Penguins organization. Doctors attributed the stroke to a hole in his heart that everyone is born with yet usually closes up over time. Luckily, he was able to make a full recovery and return to the Penguins later that season. Letang’s dedication to his rehabilitation is inspiring to this day, especially to those whose lives have been affected by strokes, including my own father’s.

Letang’s Potential Landing Spots This Offseason

To the dismay of the Penguins’ front office and fanbase, their beloved elite defenseman will become a UFA at the conclusion of the 2021-22 NHL season. Letang is playing in the final season of an 8-year, $58M contract extension he signed in 2013. Considering what he has accomplished during his tenure in Pittsburgh and how much he adores his teammates and city, there is a solid chance he decides to finish his career the way he began it, as a Penguin.

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Of course, any information regarding Letang’s decision to stay or leave is up in the air, as he has assured the Penguins organization that he is solely focused on his play and his team’s upcoming playoff run (from ‘Penguins’ Kris Letang not focused on pending free agency, rumors of departure’, Tribune-Review, 2022).

Related: Penguins’ Playoff Chances Get a Boost with Rakell Addition

However, in the scenario that Letang does indeed choose to depart from the Penguins, there are reasons to believe he may want to join the Montreal Canadiens. Letang was born and raised in Montreal and could follow the path of many players before him who have left their respective teams to conclude their careers in their hometown. The Canadiens’ defensive core has been worn thin this season, led by aging veterans Jeff Petry and David Savard. Should Letang decide to finish his career where it all began, he would bolster the team’s seasoned veteran presence and accelerate the development of younger defensemen.

Kris Letang Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, January 2, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Since 2005, Letang has made an everlasting mark on the hockey world. Whether he decides to remain in Pittsburgh or ultimately take his talents elsewhere in the offseason, his legacy as an all-time Penguin is sure to never be forgotten.

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