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900 Down; How Many More Will Letang Play With Penguins?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang
By Michael Miller (Own work)

What if these are the waning months of Kris Letang’s career with the Pittsburgh Penguins? After this season, the highly skilled defenseman and franchise cornerstone player is in line to become an unrestricted free agent. He will be 35 by then and has had some injury and other health setbacks over the years.

But Letang also has racked up 900 games as of Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets, all with the Penguins, who pretty obviously got a steal when they drafted him in the third round, 62nd overall, in 2005, 61 spots after teammate Sidney Crosby.

Letang logs big minutes on the top pairing, quarterbacks the power play, skates superbly, has a strong offensive flair, and keeps himself in phenomenal shape.

Put it to a vote, and it seems likely that anyone who keeps the Penguins’ interest at heart would push for Letang to re-sign and finish his career in Pittsburgh.

Teammate Kasperi Kapanen surely would.

“He’s been playing at a high level for a long time,” Kapanen said after Sunday’s game. “I think he’s one of the most underrated defensemen out there. I’m happy for him. Hopefully, he plays another 900 more.”

Letang, who has 137 goals and 480 assists for 617 points in those 900 games, had his 10-game point streak come to an end Sunday. But consider that, according to the league, he is one of just five defensemen ever to compile a 10-game point streak aged 34 or over.

He is the fourth player to reach 900 games inclusively with the Penguins, after current teammates Crosby (1,068) and Evgeni Malkin (947) and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux (915).

“It’s awesome to have a chance to play with those guys for that many games, winning three Cups with these guys. Being part of this organization is special,” Letang said.

“As a kid, you don’t think it’s going to happen, and here I am playing with probably one of the best players to ever play the game (in Crosby).”

As he recalls, he’s come a long way from the first time he stepped onto the ice for an NHL game.

“My first shift was a tough one,” Letang said. “I lost my stick. I went to grab it. The puck hit my stick and went the other way. So it was a memorable shift.

“But overall, we won the game 4-0 against Philly, so a rivalry like that for my first game was pretty cool.”

That was Oct 6, 2006. Letang had no points, was a plus-1, had no shots and played 15:01.

It was the start of something big.

During his early years in the league, Kris Letang took losing hard. Heck, he took being the subject of pranks by veteran teammates hard (ask him sometime about finding his suit sleeves sewn shut with a team plane to catch).

He could come off as moody, but it was probably more a case of caring a lot and needing to learn to balance the good with the bad.

Letang always has had pride, and occasionally that has led to a bit of prickliness off the ice. Like the time after the Penguins’ 2019 first-round playoff exit when he furrowed his fuzzy brows and defended the risks he needs to sometimes take to play his high-paced, aggressive style.

Still, he has been a hugely valuable asset by any quantitative or subjective measure.

Earlier this season, Letang hedged on how long he wants to continue playing but acknowledged he’s eyeing five more years at least.

Salary cap concerns, possible direction from a new ownership group and how Letang feels about things, among other factors, will determine whether Letang returns with the Penguins next season.

A good guess is that there could be a revolt of some sort if he ends up in another uniform.

Kris Letang speaks after Sunday’s game:

 

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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
8 months ago

He is essential, don’t let him go

Frank
Frank
8 months ago

He can make you crazy sometimes with his decision making (although that happens less and less these days) . .. but he is an elite defenseman that plays much younger and that is helped as the team transitions to a somewhat more defensive minded group. It is impossible to look at his body of work and not acknowledge the franchise is immeasurably better because of him. They do need to find a way to retain him. Fans however will need to keep in mind in order to do that it will be subsidized by another player NOT being retained. It… Read more »

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
8 months ago

There is a difference between cost and value. If they can maximize his value to the team, or his return on investment, I hope that he stays with us. Same for Geno.

DaGama
DaGama
8 months ago

Barring significant injury, 58 plays here at least 3 more seasons.

Dr. Isaly von Yinzer
Dr. Isaly von Yinzer
8 months ago

I don’t even understand the dilemma here? Forget about his Hall of Fame past, he REMAINS our best defenseman — and not by a little bit. Also, he has been phenomenal this year! How could you possibly justify letting your number one defenseman walk away? Are we undergoing a full rebuild? That’s the only way this makes any sense whatsoever. Give the guy his money and try to keep the term to 3-4 years. Then, count your lucky stars that you’re one of the 5-7 lucky teams in the NHL that actually has a legitimate number one defenseman who can… Read more »

Dr. Isaly von Yinzer
Dr. Isaly von Yinzer
8 months ago

Honestly, in watching Geno over the past week or so, I have the same feeling with him as I do Letang. He is still clearly a dominant force out there. What kind of moron would willingly surrender that advantage? I’m not talking about what they did in 2009 or even in 2017, I’m talking about what they bring to the team right now; and what they are likely to bring over the next few years. If you want to reshape the team, start elsewhere. You don’t start with the team’s building blocks, you start with the overpriced tertiary pieces. No… Read more »