letangtoughnightgetty

So…what do the Penguins do with Letang?

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On Thursday, the Penguins dropped $76 million to keep Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh until 2022, which made for an interesting situation.

With the majority of the club’s money locked up in core players like Sidney Crosby (12 years, $104.4 million), James Neal (six years, $30 million) and now Malkin, questions immediately abounded about how GM Ray Shero would retain the services of a number of key UFAs.

Specifically, Kris Letang.

The 26-year-old Norris nominee is heading into the final season of a four-year, $14 million deal, coming off a campaign in which he continued to produce as one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen: 38 points in 35 games, tied with PK Subban for the league lead among blueliners (Subban had the advantage of playing seven more games, though).

Letang has essentially been a point-a-game producer over the last two seasons, and has carried that scoring rate into the postseason.

So…what do the Penguins do with him?

Shero’s already on record saying Letang won’t be going anywhere. But, at the same time, he admitted the Pens will have to undergo some restructuring.

“This team is going to change,” said Shero. “It happens every year with free agency, salary cap, trades. Change is sometimes good and sometimes hard.”

Pittsburgh also needs to know what Letang wants to be paid.

On that note, here’s Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Letang, 26, seeks at least a five-year contract  with a full no-trade clause, though he prefers an eight-year term. He also wants  a full no-movement clause. Compensation is trickier because Letang is the first  in-his-prime defenseman set to hit the open market under the new labor deal. 

The Penguins believe Letang will want at least $7  million annually and closer to or above $8 million.

And here’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who notes that negotiations between Shero and Letang’s agent, Kent Hughes, haven’t started yet:

It seems the biggest question will be if Pittsburgh wants to pay Letang as its elite, No. 1 defenseman, making him the guy.

On the surface, that decision might seem like a no-brainer — he was nominated as one of the three best blueliners in the league — but Letang still struggles with the defensive side of the game and has a penchant for turnovers and questionable decisions.

In short, he’s far from the perfect all-around defenseman.

Pittsburgh also has future blueliners to consider. The club spent a pair of first-round picks in 2012 on defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta and a second-round pick in 2011 on Scott Harrington.

Simon Despres, the club’s first-round pick in 2009, looks as though he’s ready to become a full-time NHLer. And there’s also the veterans to consider — Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik — neither of whom is signed past 2015.

So…what would you do with Letang?

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal