Penguins' Shero gives Letang talks one more shot
NEWARK, N.J. — Ray Shero is waiting on Kris Letang.
He may not wait much longer.
A scheduled face-to-face meeting for Saturday afternoon between Shero and Kent Hughes, Letang's agent, was viewed by both parties as the last good chance to bridge a financial gap on a possible long-term contract.
Letang, a defenseman set to enter the final year of his contract, will be prime trade bait at the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday.
“He's worth waiting on in terms of making the right decisions, knowing all the information,” Shero said Saturday before meeting with Hughes. “But there's a time to make a deal, to sign a player, or maybe it's apparent that you can't, or maybe it's better to wait or do something else.”
Shero said before meeting with Hughes that he already had received calls about Letang's availability. Montreal, San Jose and Philadelphia are interested, and the Penguins would prefer to deal with a club that can return a top prospect and at least two roster players who they would control for multiple seasons.
The Penguins also would not mind a draft pick as part of a package. They do not select until the third round because of in-season trades for winger Jarome Iginla and defenseman Douglas Murray.
Shero reiterated that he would like to keep Letang and acknowledged that Letang is due a big raise on his $3.5 million salary. Letang, 26, led the NHL in points-per-game by a defenseman this past season and was a Norris Trophy (top defenseman) nominee for the first time.
Negotiations between Shero and Hughes have not gone swimmingly, and Letang has expressed frustration as this past week advanced without significant movement on a deal.
Shero stressed he wanted emotion to play no factor. “That's not beneficial to anybody,” he said.
The Penguins remain uncomfortable with a counterproposal to their willingness to pay Letang about $7 million annually on a maximum-limit eight-year contract. Shero made that offer Wednesday. Hughes countered Thursday with a proposed $7.75 million annual salary on an eight-year deal, but Shero immediately dismissed the deal.
The Penguins have not shied from spending to the salary cap since ownership authorized doing so in 2008.
At no point during their six-year run as a cap club have the Penguins entered a season with three players each counting at least $7 million against the cap. That would happen after next season if Letang is re-signed for a $7 million-or-more annual hit.
Captain Sidney Crosby has a salary cap hit of $8.7 million. Center Evgeni Malkin will count $9.5 million against the cap when his new contract begins after next season.
“It's a challenge,” Shero said. “I mean, OK, an extra $250,000 here, another $500,000 here, $100,000 more, it all adds up.
“I can't predict where the cap will be in a year or two, but I'd like to try and keep these players together. I think they're special players, but knowing the fact that you have to have a well-balanced team, it's a lot of money.”
A return to record revenues, at least $3.3 billion, was projected recently by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. That could push the cap, set next season for $64.3 million, near the pre-lockout range of $70 million for the first year that Crosby, Malkin and Letang would combine to absorb no less than $25.2 million of the Penguins' allotted space.
Even if the math works — Hughes contends that a projected rising cap in what would be Letang's free-agent summer (2014) means bids for his client would start at $8 million annually — Shero faces another challenge.
Crosby and Malkin hold full no-movement clauses, meaning the Penguins could not trade them without their approval.
Limited-movement clauses are common for players who agree to long-term deals. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin have those.
Fleury, once the clear No. 3 nucleus player behind Crosby and Malkin, did not receive a full no-movement clause when signing a seven-year contract after his career-best postseason in 2008.
Letang, coming off his career-best season, wants a full no-movement clause, even though he, like Crosby and Malkin, failed to produce a point as the Penguins were swept from the Eastern Conference final.
“You do have to be careful with that because it becomes (situations) where maybe the team doesn't do as well as you hoped or maybe the player is not happy or maybe the cap doesn't go up,” Shero said. “You have to be careful in how you're doing full no-movement clauses.
“Crosby and Malkin are something, and Kris Letang is a real special player.”
Special players do get traded.
Jordan Staal did a year ago early in Round 1 of the Entry Draft.