Penguins Reward Letang’s Drop In Play With 4-Year, $14 Mil Extension

The Penguins today announced a 4-year extension for RFA-to-be Kris Letang worth $3.5 million per season.

In a semi-related story, this song was blasting on the loudspeaker at Southpointe while Sergei Gonchar was taking his rehab skate:

$3.5 mil isn’t cheap for a guy who’s noticeably played worse this season than last, a drop-off not quite as dramatic as Ryan Whitney’s a year ago but still concerning, and even though Letang is a right-handed offensive defenseman and still 22, he’s only scored 3 goals in 67 games this year despite ample power play time. He also would’ve been a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so teams wouldn’t have been able to sign him without giving up draft picks to the Pens, and I can’t imagine someone would’ve been falling over themselves to throw away first round picks to outbid the Pens for a 5’11” defenseman after a down year. Well, besides Kevin Lowe.

Still, the Letang contract was necessary, if perhaps a tad expensive. (Continued After The Jump):

The deal is just one of those “gotta suck-it-up and do this” situations for Penguins brass, as Letang is clearly essential to the team’s future, and with the minutes he logs on a night-to-night basis and a sure-to-expand role in the power play next season and beyond, any marked improvement in Letang’s play next season (an extreme likelihood given his age and the talent around him) will make this deal fair market value, even if it’s difficult to see how Letang had the leverage to pull this kind of deal as an RFA-to-be having a mediocre season.

People will assuredly talk about how this deal spells the end for Gonchar in a Penguins uniform, but the writing was already on the wall, and I don’t mean that as an expression, I mean that Ray Shero literally wrote “You’re old and not playing well and we’re not re-signing you” on Gonchar’s locker in neon green spraypaint. Pens fans are quick to point out how much better the team plays with Gonchar in the lineup, particularly the power play, and it’s true, but Gonchar is on the verge of turning 36, his defensive play has dropped severely this season to the point where he’s often a liability especially when he’s logging 25 minutes a game, and most obviously of all, the Pens power play has blown even with Gonchar.

The Pens are better off not paying three offensive defensemen in their group of six, and betting on Letang and Goligoski to improve is simply a smarter wager than betting on Gonchar not to decline further during a multi-year deal. Plus if a Penguin power play can’t score with Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Goligoski, and Winger Who Isn’t Konstantin Koltsov, they really have no excuse (meaning, they’ll continue to have no excuse).

Expect some serious roster turnover for the Pens next year with the expiring contracts of Gonchar, Guerin, Cooke, Fedotenko, Leopold, Ponikarovsky, Eaton, McKee, and Brent Johnson. Time’s-a-wastin’ to lock up Johnson to that Rick DiPietro deal…

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