First things first, both Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar practiced today. Evgeni Malkin has missed the past four games due to a foot injury. Sergei Gonchar, who has missed the past three games, revealed he has been battling strep throat.
Kris Letang, Gonchar (above, with Letang) and general manager Ray Shero all spoke this afternoon.
First, Letang. On staying with the Penguins:
"If you put the money aside, you always want to be in a town where you want to play every thing. I think I’d rather stay here and have fun. I think we’re like a family now. We’re all young and playing together. I think it’s a really important part of my decision."
Can the Penguins re-sign Gonchar:
"I don’t know about that. I’m not looking at that. I think I want to be a part of this team. I think its something special. Hopefully we can get him back because he’s a really important piece of this team."
On being able to really cash in as an unrestricted free agent in four years:
"I don’t want to look too far ahead. I just want to focus on my postseason right now and get into the playoffs with confidence."
On what parts of his game have improved since he became a Penguin:
"Defensively obviously. I got better with years. I got more experience. I play against better players now than I was three years ago. I think it’s just improving every day."
On his scoring chances:
"Yeah. I’m trying to shoot as often as I can. I think I have 14 shots in two games or something like that. I just try to get my shot on net and create some offense."
Shero speaks. On Letang's new deal:
"Kris Letang signed a new four-year contract starting next year. From an organizational standpoint, he’s a really good fit for us. He’s a 22-year-old defenseman but he’s played over 200 games at a young age. "
On Letang's upside:
"I think he’s one of the better young defenseman in the league. He’s a guy we’re going to continue to build around. He’s going to get better as a defenseman. He’s starting to show his leadership capabilities on and off the ice."
On Gonchar's free agency:
"This doesn’t affect Sergei at all. This is part of our plan to sign Kris Letang who was a restricted free agent at the end of the year. I’m hoping to have Sergei back. Hopefully after the season we can continue those discussions because ‘Gonch’ has been a fantastic player here for five years."
When will negotiations with Gonchar re-start:
"Probably after the season. That’s what we talked about at the Olympics. Our plan all along was to sign Letang and Gonchar so hopefully things work out with Sergei as well."
On the organization's depth with defensemen:
"A lot of the credit, I still want to give to (former general manager) Craig Patrick and (former head scout) Greg Malone, who drafted guys like Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang. But we got guys in Wilkes-Barre as well. Guys like Robert Bortuzzo who has really come along. Ben Lovejoy, Brian Strait. And we got some younger guys in college. Nick D’Agostino at Cornell. (Alex) Velischek and Carl Sneep."
On negotiations with Letang:
"I think it was a normal course of negotiation during the course of the year. It took a little bit of time. But things on both sides became clear as we moved along. As I said to Kris, months ago, he’s a guy at one point or another, we’re going to get signed. I think he’s stepped up his game the last little while. His better days are ahead of him. From a planning standpoint, it’s a very good signing and it gets it out of the way before the end of the season."
On Letang's game:
"It’s going to be hard to look around the league as a young defenseman to find guys that are strong, that can skate like him, who have very good hands. That defend well. I know Dan Bylsma trusts his game in terms of he could play in (Stanley Cup) Finals against a Marian Hossa. He can match up against guys like this because he’s strong. He can skate. His offensive production will come. I think with time that will grow as well. I always tell Kris I’m more worried about his defensive game. Solidify that as a young defenseman, your offensive game will come eventually."
Gonchar speaks. On how Letang's contract impacts his free agency after the season:
"I don’t know. To be honest with you, I don’t know what the cap situation is. "
Does he still want to stay with the Penguins:
On Shero saying Gonchar's impending free agency isn't impacted by Letang's new deal:
"Ray was an honest guy since Day 1. I’ve known him for a few year so if he’s saying so, yeah, I believe him."
What parts of Letang's game can improve:
"Improvement on him can come I would say with finishing his chances he has. He does a great job of playing defense. He’s always in good position it seems like. "
Can Letang or Alex Goligoski be a regular power play quarterback:
"I think so. I think Alex is more ready for it. He has more experience. Kris is a little bit behind him, but yeah, they both have that ability."
(Photos: Letang and Gonchar-Jim McIsaac/Getty Images; Letang-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Shero-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Gonchar- Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)