Kris Letang might be around for quite a while. For over a decade, the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman has been the primary minutes eater and offensive driver on the Penguins blue line. And, if he weren’t joking, he’d like to be around for another decade. Letang also offered some heartfelt praise for his longtime teammates, including former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins host the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena. The Canadiens practiced on the second rink at the UPMC Lemieux Complex while the Penguins used their primary ice sheet.
So, there were a handful of French-speaking reporters who popped in for Letang’s media availability on Monday. Speaking French, Letang’s native language, they had a few laughs and enjoyed the lighthearted exchanges.
With the help of Montreal Hockey Now reporter Jon Still, and Montreal media personality Marco D’Amico, we got an official translation and update on Letang’s career arc. The 34-year-old defenseman is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season–which is a place he’s never been. The Penguins signed him to an eight-year deal well before he was set to become a UFA, but that contract with a $7.25 million AAV will expire in July, and one of the Penguins championship core may, or may not, be around after this season.
Is Letang enjoying his role and playing hockey?
“It’s fun, honestly. I’ve said it several times in my career, I want to keep playing 25-26 minutes a night. I don’t want to take a step back in terms of minutes. I want to work, I want to train, I want to do everything I can to play at the same level, no matter my age,” he said. “In terms of production, of course, I’d like to produce more. I don’t think I’ve reached the peak of what I can do offensively yet this season. It’s a work in progress, and I’m going to keep working hard at it. I’m trying to help the team no matter the situation. Whether it’s the penalty kill, power play, whatever.”
Then a reporter retorted: “You’re not going to play until you’re 40, eh?
Laughter ensued, at least for those who speak French.
Letang has 17 points (1-6-17) this season, as the Penguins defensemen have piled up assists but only four goals.
Pittsburgh Penguins Heritage
Letang has talked repeatedly that it would be special to play in only one place in his career. Perhaps a bit nostalgic on Monday, he was asked about the Penguins’ identity. He turned the question into praise and a little trip down memory lane for the Penguins core–the original core: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Letang spoke glowingly of his comrades.
“That would be No. 87 (who provides the organization’s identity). No. 87 for sure. No. 71 (Malkin) as well. It can be traced back to ownership, Mario Lemieux, and it comes from there. We spoke of Flower before. When Flower was here, he fought for every puck and every rebound…”
Former Penguins and Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien told PHN a story in 2019. Therrien coached the Penguins following the organization’s dismissal of Eddie Olzcyk in 2005 until the Penguins replaced him with Dan Bylsma in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Therrien was the first coach as the Penguins core came together.
“Passion,” Therrien said back then. “I remember, they were teenagers almost. I had to keep them out of the rink because they’d spend their days at the rink. This was all they knew.”
The band. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Kris Letang. Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury hasn’t been a Penguins player since the 2017 Vegas Expansion Draft, yet his presence remains with fans and teammates. Last week, he earned his 500th career win, making him just one of three goalies all-time to reach that feat.
Fleury found a new home with Vegas. And now Chicago. One wonders if Letang and Malkin will venture on the same path of finding success elsewhere. The question has been hanging over the organization since the summer, though the stamp of this championship core will forever be on the Penguins franchise.
Or maybe Kris Letang will indeed play for the Pittsburgh Penguins until he’s 45. He got a laugh when he said it, but we don’t think he was entirely kidding, either.