Analyzing The Future Of Pittsburgh's Defense Following Kris Letang's Contract Extension

Kris Letang has signed a four-year contract extension, which could potentially lead to the end of Sergei Gonchar's time with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Pensburgh: Defense Has A Bright Future, But Patience Is Required

SBN's Penguins blog, Pensburgh, has a fantastic rundown of the future of the Pittsburgh blue line in the aftermath of the Kris Letang signing. The four-year, $14 million contract likely spells the end of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar's time in the Steel City.

As harsh a reality as it may be, Sergei Gonchar is not immortal.  Hooks touched upon that earlier this week.  It's sad but true.  With the recent signing of Letang, all indications would suggest Gonch is gone after this season.  You may make a formidable case by presenting the relation to other veteran defensemen like Nik Lidstrom (but not Chris Chelios, God forbid), but I think I'd rather my team bank more on the future in guys like Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski instead of hanging on to something that just might not be there anymore in a guy like Gonchar.  The risk is too great, especially for a team that is looking to make continuous runs for the Cup.  That doesn't mean I'd bash re-signing him, but a lot has to do with ponying up the dough that could possibly be spent elsewhere.  Amount pending of course.

Speaking of GoGo, I think there is a lot of room for improvement on his end.  I speak specifically on his defensive side, whereby the mere expense of $5 could replace his presence on the ice with an orange cone and be just as effective.  But if we're using Letang as a model for development (which in this case, I am), then his defensive game will come with time.  Again, it's that whole patience thing.  It's safe to say that expectations were a bit high for GoGo in his first full season with the club.  Next season may very well be the first real test for him in what will likely be a Gonchar-less Pens team.

Click over to Pensburgh to read the rest, discuss the team and the future of the defense with other Pens fans.

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Analysis: Letang's Contract Proof Of Change In NHL Philosophy

Kris Letang's four-year contract extension is more than just a pay day for an exciting young shutdown defenseman. According to Mike Chen at SBN's From The Rink, Letang's deal is just further proof that the philosophy has changed with regards to how and when hockey players get their big pay day.

[This contract is] a hefty raise from the $800k that Letang was making on his rookie contract. I think this is a payday based on projection, not past achievement. So it goes with the current cap-driven CBA; in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw players past their prime get paid for their past and today we see players before their prime get paid for their future.

[...]

The biggest comparables here are Tobias Enstrom, Brent Seabrook, and Ryan Suter. Of the bunch, Enstrom's grown the fastest while Suter's also on the path to be one of the elite two-way defensemen in the league. Seabrook's numbers aren't as gaudy as Enstrom or Suter but they're still good, with upside for his age.

Based on these players, it's clear to see who the Letang camp pegged as comparable in negotiations. Of course, the trick is for Letang to live up to expectations and be a reliable blueliner that runs the power play while regularly breaking the 40-point barrier. 

You can bet guys like Suter and Enstrom will get hefty increases in their next contract, and you know that Pittsburgh is looking big-picture with this. Four years gets Letang to 26, which means that he'll be reaching his prime as a defenseman. By that time, they'll have a good sense as to whether or not Letang is following the path that Suter and Enstrom are currently on (and if so, they'll have to budget accordingly to keep him), or if he's a woulda-coulda-shoulda guy like Brad Stuart.

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Could This Be The End Of Gonchar's Time In Pitt? Penguins Fans React To Kris Letang's Contract Extension

Kris Letang's four-year, $14 million contract has deep ramifications on the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course, in this salary cap world. Letang is young, he's good and now he's been paid. SB Nation's Penguins blog, Pensburgh, reacted to the contract extension.

Letang, who will turn 23 years old next month, has already played 223 NHL regular season games (and 39 more in playoff action). That kind of experience is almost unheard of for a defenseman.  It was expected that Letang would blossom this season offensively, after he scored 13 points in 22 playoff games last spring, but that hasn't been the case.

However lately he's played some very strong hockey and is on a "shutdown" defensive unit with Brooks Orpik that often matches up against the opposition's best forwards.  Letang also has a special skill-set on the shootout, he's 4 for 10 this season with 3 "Game deciding" goals.

A $3.5 million cap hit for Letang represents a raise of $2.665 million on the salary cap.  The Penguins, tight to the cap as it is, are going to have to account for that.  Does that have ramifications for Sergei Gonchar?  It sure seems like it.

Some people are speculating that Letang's contract signing essentially spells the end of Gonchar's time in Pittsburgh. Adam Gretz at FanHouse is one of those people, saying Tuesday afternoon that the Pens will have about "$12 million and $15 million in cap space for next season to fill six roster spots" and that "Gonchar, based on his current deal and still-solid production, would require at least $5 million of that available cap space."

Seems like he'll be going elsewhere in free agency, indeed. Recently, Gonchar has missed some time due to injury, and Pensburgh discussed how the team looked without their best defenseman in the lineup. Almost like they knew this contract extension was coming, they mentioned how much of the responsibility is going to fall on Letang if and when Gonchar does leave town.

Sergei Gonchar, resident #1 defenseman on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the five years he's been here, has missed the last three games due to an illness. He's expected to be back soon - probably by Wednesday - but his absence has given the Penguins a sneak peak of what life without Gonch would be like.

Sans Sarge, a lot is going to fall to young defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. And that hasn't disappointed yet. Let's look at some particulars over these past three games. It's a very small sample size, but some trends are beginning to emerge.

[...]

Goligoski and Letang are getting a lot more playing time, and combined they're throwing a lot more rubber to the net than they have been this season.  But they haven't produced any points, and Gonchar's scored an average of .798 points/game during his stint as a Pittsburgh Penguin.  The young players are going to have to get on the scoreboard, but for now they're doing quite well at filling the gaps and keeping the momentum going.

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Kris Letang Signs 4-Year, $14 Million Contract With Penguins

Defenseman Kris Letang is staying put with the Pittsburgh Penguins after signing a four-year contract which will pay him $3.5 million each year. The 22-year-old is secured up to the 2013-2014 season and is considered a key asset in the future for Pittsburgh's blue line.

Letang has three goals and 24 assists in 67 games this season while logging an average of 21:30 of ice time per game; second only to Sergei Gonchar among the defense.

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