Kris Letang has spent his entire NHL career playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and while he only has one season left on his contract, the veteran defenseman has recently made one thing clear to management, he wants to retire a member of the Penguins.
Letang has a decorated trophy case as he’s managed to take home three Stanley Cups and his six All-Star appearances are quite impressive. While he’s certainly gone through a steady flow of ups and downs with the Penguins, including several trade rumors that have surrounded him throughout the years, Letang is as committed as ever to Pittsburgh and would love to make room for another Cup in his trophy case.
Message received from Letang as it’s quite obvious he has no interest in moving on to another organization. The Penguins’ No. 1 defenseman is entering the final season of his current contract, paying him $7.25 million. He holds no-trade protection, where he lists 18 teams he’s willing to be traded to. At this point, it feels like he won’t have to worry one bit about being moved as the new management duo of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke have been quite open about how they are willing to have the Penguins’ big three stick around in Pittsburgh. Any doubt from the player’s side has now been squashed as Letang wants a shot at four Cups with his close buddies Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Expect a Massive Season Out of Letang
In 2020-21 the Montreal, Quebec-native recorded arguably his statistically best season of his career as he tallied 45 points in 55 games and had a plus-19 rating. He then went on to record six points in six Stanley Cup playoff games. Look for Letang to build off this momentum in 2021-22. While there were many problems throughout the season with the Penguins, he was not one of them.
One of the biggest reasons the mobile defenseman was able to enjoy such a fine season was the fact he stayed on the ice. Health has been a knock on Letang over the years and he seems to be doing his best to put the bumps and bruises behind him. Another element of his game that’s developed over the years is his leadership abilities and now he’s become quite the mentor for a couple of the Penguins’ young defensemen, specifically Pierre-Olivier Joseph. The veteran has taken the youngster under his wing, and the two are now training together in Montreal to prepare for training camp.
Music to the Ears of Management
If you told any NHL executive their best defenseman is committed to the team, he’s willing to take less money to stick around, and he’s embraced the mentor role to lead the organization’s youngsters, they would ask where to sign up. Letang has done exactly this, and there’s no reason why Hextall and Burke shouldn’t be offering a contract extension at some point this season.
The veteran defenseman is a pro’s pro, he loves the Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh, and his leadership and commitment in the dressing room has a tremendously positive influence on the group. Letang is still a top-50 player in the NHL and it’s almost like he’s a fine wine, getting better with age.
Lofty Expectations on the Penguins in 2021-22
The only thing that can really complicate things in Pittsburgh when it comes to Letang or Malkin, specifically, is the team struggling in the first half of the season. The chatter and trade speculation will amplify if the Penguins can’t string wins together and are sitting out of the playoff picture leading up to the trade deadline. It will be a super tough decision for management if the team is sitting on the outside looking in, with both Malkin and Letang sitting without contracts for next season.
While the players have made it clear they want to stick around, it’s likely the team gets a ton of phone calls about renting either Malkin or Letang. Perhaps they could get moved, get the Penguins a cupboard full of picks and prospects, and then turn around and sign a contract back in Pittsburgh next summer? Not likely but not impossible. That’s certainly one way to kick-start the rebuild but also give the players a chance to retire as Penguins.
There’s a spotlight on the Penguins this season. It’s the first full season under Burke and Hextall. It’s the second season where Tristan Jarry is the No. 1 goaltender. And, it’s another season for the big three to show they still have the abilities to lead Pittsburgh back to the Stanley Cup.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween