The rumors and speculation can finally end.
The Penguins officially announced they have signed defenseman Kris Letang to an eight-year contract extension worth a total of $58 million. The contract will begin with the 2014-15 season. Letang, 26, has one year remaining on his current deal with a salary cap hit of $3.5 million.
Letang appeared 35 games last season and led all defensemen in scoring with 38 points (five goals, 33 assists). He finished third in voting for the Norris Trophy which is awarded to the league's top defenseman. He was among the league's best defensemen in several statistical categories.
Letang's new deal has a limited no-trade clause believed to allow for a list of 15 17 teams Letang would accepted a trade to.
With Letang signed, the team will have $45.2 million of its salary cap tied to eight players in 2014-15:
Salary Cap Hit
|Evgeni Malkin, C||$9.5 million|
|Sidney Crosby, C||$8.7 million|
|Kris Letang, D||$7.25 million|
|Marc-Andre Fleury, G||$5 million|
|Paul Martin, D||$5 million|
|James Neal, LW||$5 million|
|Chris Kunitz, LW||$3.85 million|
|Beau Bennett, RW||$900,000-*|
Letang's contract will have the third higest cap hit for any defensemen heading into the 2014-15 season:
Salary Cap Hit
|Shea Weber, Predators||$7,857,143|
|Ryan Suter, Wild||$7,538,462|
|Kris Letang, Penguins||$7.5 milion|
|Brian Campbell, Panthers||$7,142,875|
|Drew Doughty, Kings||$7,000,000|
-EN Says: There are definitely minuses to this contract. But they are completely dwarfed by the pluses.
Letang has faults to his game. He can lack composure at crucial junctures in the postseason. He has yet to show he can consistently quarterback a power play and he takes chances which can lead to awful turnovers.
But that still doesn't mean he's not already one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Mainly it means, he can get better.
Think about that, a player who was a finalist for the Norris Trophy who still hasn't hit his ceiling.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Scott Niedermayer have each won the Norris Trophy but each of them didn't get named a finalist for the award later points in their careers than Letang. In other words, Letang is arguably a better player at 26 than several future hall-of-fame defensemen.
Letang can, must and will likely improve. He needs to eliminate those moments in his game such as the ones which lead him to conclude he can attempt clears from below his goal line up the middle of the ice which lead to turnovers and opposing goals:
If Letang can eliminate those errors, he will win the Norris Trophy.
Letang's deal certainly creates questions regarding the Penguins' payroll. Can they build a team when the have three of the top 15 salary cap hits in the NHL on the same roster?
The salary cap ceiling, believed to be $64.3 million for next season, could rise up to $70 million in 2014-15 when Letang's new deal kicks in. As they years go on with increased salary cap space and presumably increased levels of play by Letang, this contract will be a bargain by the time he become 30.
As far as the idea that this contract could impact the fates of Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke or others who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents Friday, we see little connection. Letang's current deal with a cap hit of $3.5 million doesn't impact the fact that the Penguins still have $7,876,667 of cap space to work with for the 2013-14 season according to CapGeek.com. With the salary cap presumably increasing for the 2014-15 season and beyond, any factors which would prevent the Penguins from re-signing Dupuis, Cooke and others are mostly independent of Letang's new deal.
(Photo: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)