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Digging deep while trying to simply explain the problem between the Penguins and Letang.

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It is not important what anybody other than Ray Shero and Kris Letang think about what has gone down these past several days.

However, it is important for everybody following at home to know the basics.

  • The Penguins are willing to pay Letang around $7 million annually over eight years for him to keep playing hockey in Pittsburgh.
  • Letang wants to do that, but at a different price. He sees himself as an elite defenseman, and he wants paid accordingly – as in, no less than $7.5 million annually. Closer to $8 million, which is what he projects to command on the open market next summer.

Those are the basics.

As long as negotiations are about basics – money, term, clauses – talks remain cordial. Usually.

There are other factors here that seemingly are wrecking the process between the Penguins and Letang:

  • He is not happy with what he has read in my reporting for the Trib – essentially, that some members of the coaching staff/management viewed Paul Martin as the Penguins’ best defenseman last season. Letang is one of the best defensemen in hockey, but he also takes slights very personally. Anybody who has coached him, covered him or played with him will attest to this. He is coming off a Norris Trophy nomination, his first, and was the only defenseman to average a point-per-game. He views himself as a franchise player. He knows nobody with the Penguins has used that terminology when discussing him – publicly or privately. He is upset.
  • Shero values players that he believes want to be in Pittsburgh, and that has meant taking less than market value on multi-year deals. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz have done that twice – each, for the second time, within the last 12 months – and Shero’s negotiations with those players went smoothly and quickly.
    Shero has been burned once – Marian Hossa in 2008 – by negotiations that went long. He vowed after that never to again be the guy standing with the empty bag. It is why he moved quickly to trade Jordan Staal last summer after talks on a new contract quickly reached a dead end. It is why he re-signed Arron Asham instead of Mike Rupp two years ago.
    Shero has seen other general managers recently negotiate at the mercy of star players. He will not be that general manager – and, most important, majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle are adamant that he not be that general manager.

As of just after midnight Friday, the Penguins had not made a decision regarding Letang. There is a reason for that.

The difference between this situation and the one with Staal last summer is that Staal stated his desire to play out the last year of his contract and leave via free agency. He wanted a bigger role, and to play with his brother, Eric, in Carolina.

Letang has the role he wants with the Penguins. He plays more minutes than any player and he is the power-play quarterback.

He wants the money that will make him feel like the Penguins think he belongs with the best among his position.

This is really about what the money represents. This is about perception.

Therein is the biggest problem with this negotiation.

The Penguins’ two franchise building blocks – the only two players that will not be traded – are Crosby and Malkin, and each has forsaken being the best-paid NHL player to stay in Pittsburgh.

That is the standard.

The perception that players take less to play for the Penguins is the reality.

The Penguins will pay their best players handsomely, but even Crosby and Malkin make sacrifices for the franchise’s overall health.

Letang seems to want to stay with the Penguins, but at his cost.

He owes the Penguins nothing except the next year on this current contract.

He genuinely likes playing hockey in Pittsburgh.

But, really, what is that worth?

Soon enough everybody will know the answer.

 

Cheers,

–Rossi

 

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

 
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