Letang agrees to 4-year extension with Pens
By Josh Yohe
Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang signed a four-year contract extension worth $14 million Tuesday largely because he feels like "part of the family" with the organization.
Does his signing mean that the elder statesman on the Penguins' blue line will be leaving after this season?
Although many have assumed the Penguins would lose either Letang or unrestricted free-agent-to-be Sergei Gonchar this summer, the team emphasized that Gonchar's departure is hardly imminent despite the Letang signing.
The $3.5 million salary cap hit that Letang's contract will produce is not enough for the Penguins to alter their plans of re-signing Gonchar this season.
"This doesn't affect Sergei at all," Penguins GM Ray Shero said. "We still want to sit down with him this summer and get a deal done."
Letang would have been a restricted free agent this summer, but the Penguins wanted to lock him up in a long-term deal. The defenseman admitted in January that the contract situation was on his mind, and that family members brought the subject up daily.
"I'm just really happy about this," Letang said. "I want to be here. I think this is a special place."
Letang made it clear that he wants Gonchar to remain in Pittsburgh. Although Letang is an offensively gifted player, he has never displayed Gonchar's unique ability to quarterback the power play.
"I hope Gonch stays," Letang said. "We aren't the same team without Gonch."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma also hopes Gonchar stays beyond this season. He doesn't believe Letang's contract will prohibit the Penguins from making a legitimate offer to Gonchar, who turns 36 the same week the playoffs begin.
"I don't think that was the intention or the ramification of the contract," Bylsma said.
Gonchar has been ill, missing the team's past three games. He admitted that, because he has been sick, his contract situation hasn't exactly been prominent in his mind.
The veteran made it clear that he would prefer to remain with the Penguins.
"I really don't know what their cap situation is," he said. "I don't know all the numbers. But Ray has always been honest with me."
Letang has been solid defensively during the early portion of his career, using his mobility and strength to become one of the league's best young blue liners. He has been something of an enigma offensively, scoring only three goals this season despite possessing skills that indicates far more production is possible. He scored 10 goals last season and added two of the postseason's most important goals in Game 3 against Washington and Game 3 against Detroit.
"We really believe the production will come," Shero said.
Often criticized for not shooting enough, Letang has changed his approach since the Olympic break. He fired a game-high nine shots on goal in Sunday's 5-4 shootout victory over Toronto.
"I'm trying to score more goals," Letang said. "I'm trying really hard. I'm doing all that I can to make it happen."
It is believed the Penguins wanted Letang to sign for at least four years but that the defenseman's camp was originally interested in a shorter deal. Letang, though, is quite pleased with the result.
"My agent and the Penguins gave me some options," he said. "This is the one I liked."
The Penguins are hoping for the option of having Gonchar in the fold next season as well. Letang, Alex Goligoski and Brooks Orpik are the only Penguins' defensemen under contract for next season.
"I don't know what the cap numbers are or anything like that," Orpik said. "Hopefully, Gonch will stay. It's a good thing to have Tanger signed. He has a ton of talent."
Rich in talent
A look at young, core players the Penguins have under contact for the long term:
Player (Age) Seasons left on deal/Annual cap hit
Sidney Crosby (22) 3/$8.7 million
Evgeni Malkin (23) 4/$8.7 million
Marc-Andre Fleury (25) 5/$5 million
Jordan Staal (21) 3/$4 million
Brooks Orpik (29) 4/$3.75 million
Kris Letang (22) 4/$3.5 million
Alex Goligoski (24) 2/$1.83 million
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