Kris Letang is staying with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The team announced on Thursday afternoon that it has re-signed the defenseman to a six-year contract for a total of $36.6 million per season. That is a salary cap hit of $6.1 million per season, which is actually lower than the $7.25 million cap hit on his previous deal and probably about $2 million less than he could have received on the open market in a couple of weeks.
Letang was eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
“Kris epitomizes what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin,” general manager Ron Hextall said in a team statement. “The role he plays on our team is irreplaceable, he is a leader in our locker room, and has made countless contributions to the organization over the last 15-plus years, which includes three Stanley Cup Championships. We are thrilled to make him a Penguin for life.”
The six-year term is eye-opening for a 35-year-old defenseman, but there are few things to consider here.
The first is that Letang is still an elite defenseman and is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career.
He is still finishing in the top-10 in Norris voting and is still one of the Penguins’ most important players. As long as they still want to compete (and they clearly do; and should), he was by far their best option this offseason in a painfully thin free agent crop for defenseman and with few assets to trade for a replacement.
By giving him a longer term it also helped reduce the salary cap number, which is extremely important for the Penguins as they not only try to re-sign another franchise icon (Evgeni Malkin), but also make necessary improvements elsewhere on the roster. Getting a defenseman of Letang’s caliber for under $6.5 million against the cap is a steal in the short-term regardless of his age.
As for the long-term, for as good as Letang still is and for as fanatical as he is about his health and staying in shape, it does seem extremely unlikely that he actually plays all six years of this deal. The way of the NHL these days is to stash players on LTIR when they reach that point of their career, and if the contract is front-loaded in terms of actual salary there is always the possibility of dealing the contract and cap hit when Letang is no longer productive (or playing) and the Penguins need to hit the reset button on an actual rebuild.
It’s a win for Letang long-term to get term, it’s a win for the Penguins in the short-term to keep a top-tier defenseman on their roster, and it’s a win for the team to see a legacy player play his entire career with the team.
Originally a third-round pick by the Penguins in 2005 (the same year they selected Sidney Crosby No. 1 overall), Letang has played 16 seasons with the Penguins, appearing in 941 regular season games and scoring 144 goals to go with 506 assists and 650 total points. He has also been a key player on three Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh.