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Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins hit that relationship wall. You know the one. After some great years together, it was time for something more. They could take the next step, accept one another for who they both were, and commit to one another long-term. Or they could break up.
They chose the former. On Tuesday, the Penguins announced that they and Letang have agreed to an eight-year, $58 million extension. Expect the "save the date" in the mail.
The deal begins with the 2014-15 season and runs through the 2021-22 campaign, and has an average annual value of $7.25 million.
Letang, 26, is coming off his best season, finishing third in balloting for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL. Letang led all NHL blueliners in both points (t-38) and assists (33) while posting a plus-16 rating and in 35 regular-season games. His 1.09 point-per-game average led all defensemen.
The 6-foot, 201-pound defenseman established careers highs during the postseason with team-leading totals of 13 assists and 16 points in 15 contests. Letang’s 16 points were tops among league defensemen, while his 13 assists were second in the entire NHL behind only Boston’s David Krejci (17).
I hate to be too obvious here, but that's a whole lot of money, especially for a defenceman that seems to occasionally struggle with what one assumes is his primary responsibility. Letang isn't always the most reliable guy in his own zone, is what I'm saying.
Earlier in this process, it was reported that, due in large part to this one little glitch in Letang's programming, Ray Shero didn't believe Letang was worth more than $6 million per year. But Letang's cap hit will stand at a gaudy $7.25. What happened?
I'd say reality set in, and they came to terms with the new CBA, as well as who their guy is. It's tough to argue with what Letang can do offensively, and a player that can start the breakout and get the puck to the stars in dangerous areas the way he can is going to get paid handsomely, especially if the negotiations begin after a Norris nomination. (Meanwhile, as @BonksMullet points out, the Norris winner is probably doing this right about now.)
Letang's ability to feed the stars is, I think, the big thing to remember about this massive contract: The Penguins now have Malkin, Letang and Crosby locked up through 2022, and while Letang can be a bit shaky defensively, there's no doubting that his presence boosts production from the Penguins' two star centres. If you want to get full value from your two scoring champions (and you've got $180 million committed to them, so it certainly behooves you to do so), you keep your best puck-mover around.
There's a concern here, of course. When Malkin and Letang's deals kick in, the Penguins will have $25.45 million of the cap -- about 40% of this year's -- committed to three guys for a long, long time. That's crazy, and it's going to impede flexibility at times.
The good news: if Letang can tighten up, the Penguins are set for just shy of a decade. But if he can't -- if he continues to be a somewhat punchier version of Brian Campbell (who, it should be noted, got a similar contract in 2008) -- Letang could turn out to be both a Penguin and an albatross for the next eight years.
UPDATE: For the Post-Gazette, "Letang's contract allows him to stipulate 12 team before each season to which he CANNOT be traded."