Flashback to May 22nd 2013 as the Pittsburgh Penguins had taken a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after a 7-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators. Kris Letang was heralded as first star after contributing four assists and recording over 21 minutes in ice time. Two days later Kris Letang was awarded with the game winning goal as the Penguins sealed their fate in the Eastern Conference Finals eliminating the Senators. Ottawa’s head coach Paul MacLean joked that he hoped the Senators would not be billed for the clinic. There was a case to be made that Kris Letang was the MVP of the series with 10 points and averaging over 25 minutes of ice time. The NHL had announced Letang as a Norris Trophy candidate. His stock was rising. It took four loses to the Boston Bruins to quickly shift a collective perspective on Letang. This Norris Trophy candidate was on the ice for 7 of the 12 Bruins goals.
The Penguins four straight loses to be swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals is not a fair argument to oppose to the Penguins signing Kris Letang to a long term deal with a hefty price tag. Kris Letang was no more a liability than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention the trade deadline acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. His irrational decision making with passes up the middle to clear the defensive zone and his skittish play in front of his own net was a problem in the series against Boston. His offensive talent and fast skating ability is undeniable, but jumping up in the play and abandoning the blue line in the offensive zone was costly for the Penguins. So do you keep him and sign him to a deal in the upwards of 7-million? Of course you do.
Kris Letang finished the regular season with 38 points in 35 games and was the team leader in ice time with an average of over 25 minutes per game. He tied Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in points playing seven fewer games. Kris Letang has recorded 209 points in 385 career games by the age of 26. This is a defenseman that deserves to be paid over 7-million dollars annually and if not by the Pittsburgh Penguins then the majority of the other 29 NHL organizations would be willing to foot the bill.
The Pittsburgh Penguins need to build the future of the franchise around a nucleus of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. The Penguins have a plethora of young defensemen in the system and with Brooks Orpik going into the last year of his contract, Kris Letang will become the veteran mentor on the blue line and the foundation for the team’s defensive system. Sure Paul Martin had a turn around season with the Penguins, but he is 6 years older than Kris Letang and not a long term solution. The Penguins have stumbled with an inconsistent goaltender for the past two seasons and those problems are not going away. You need a staple franchise defenseman and Kris Letang needs to be that guy for the Penguins.
Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara weren’t nominated for the Norris until they were over 30 years old. Kris Letang has the potential to be a candidate for years to come and he will get there with the defensive guidance of the Penguins coaching staff. The Penguins will be tight up against the cap going into the 2014-2015 season, but the salary cap will significantly increase in the years to come (see NHL’s addition of four more outdoor games next season.) Kris Letang will be making upwards of 7-million dollars when his new contract kicks in on July 1st, 2014. You may be complaining about it now, but it’s better than regretting it later.