For defenseman Kris Letang, there was no place he’d rather be than in Pittsburgh playing for the Penguins.
Letang, 26, is entering the final year of his contract and had been negotiating, along with his agent Kent Hughes, with Penguins general manager Ray Shero on an extension.
As the conversations progressed, Letang had only one thing on his mind.
“It was about getting a deal done with Pittsburgh,” said Letang. “I never looked at any other team or free agency or anything like that. It was settling on numbers and making sure I can spend the rest of my career in Pittsburgh.”
The numbers were settled and on Tuesday the Penguins and Letang agreed to terms on an eight-year, $ 58-million extension that will run through the 2021-22 season, essentially keeping Letang in a Penguins uniform until he is 35 years old.
“I’m really happy for my family. For me, it’s awesome to stay in a place like Pittsburgh where I can raise a family,” Letang said.
The Montreal native is entering the prime of his career. Last season, he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman, after scoring 38 points (5G-33A) in 35 games – the only blueliner in the league to average over a point per game.
But just because Letang has some comfort and security with his new deal, he isn’t going to be complacent.
“Every time I go back home for the summer I try to get stronger and more explosive. I’m trying to work on every area of my game, offensively and defensively,” he said. “I put a lot of time and work into that.”
Letang has played six full NHL seasons, which include a Stanley Cup championship, two Cup Finals and three Eastern Conference finals. And he hopes in the future to impart some of that experience and knowledge to the Penguins’ crop of highly-rated defensive prospects.
“If there’s one thing I need to address for myself is taking more of a role in the locker room, becoming a bigger leader for our team and the younger guys coming,” he said. “If we have a young guy like Simon (Despres), I’ll try to help him out and make sure he gets better every day and is a better player to help our team win. We have a lot of talent in the system in Simon and all those draft picks that we have. We need to get them into the lineup as quickly as possible and make sure they contribute.”
Letang has come a long way since his wide-eyed debut with the Penguins on October 5, 2006 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“My first shift I was so nervous I was on the ice for 15 seconds and it felt like a two-minute shift,” he recalled. “I was really tired, but after that I settled in. I realized I was in the NHL and it had been my dream since I was a little kid.”
Letang’s first game was in a Penguins uniform. And there are many reasons why he wants to keep wearing the flightless bird for the next nine years.
“Everything, the city, the organization, my teammates played a big role in that,” he said of re-signing. “From a standpoint of the organization, it’s always been first class. They always take care of us, from the medical staff to training staff to equipment guys, everyone is awesome in Pittsburgh. We have two great owners in Mario (Lemieux) and Ron (Burkle) that give us everything we need to be successful. It’s a first-class organization from head-to-toe.”