From the beginning of the season, it was well known that the summer of 2022 was going to be full of tough decisions for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A new ownership group and yet another first round exit only added to the fog for the Penguins.
The ball got rolling for the Penguins’ summer when they re-signed Bryan Rust to a six-year deal in late May, then front office promotions were handed out almost a month later.
One of the biggest points of contention for the Penguins is what to do with veteran defenseman Kris Letang.
According to the Athletic’s Rob Rossi, the Penguins have made him priority No. 1; ahead of fellow veteran free agent Evgeni Malkin.
Making Letang the top priority is a totally valid approach; he is coming off of a career year where he put up 68 points (10-58) in 78 games.
Despite recently turning 35-years-old, Letang still averaged 25:47 of ice-time each game, fourth highest in the NHL.
Losing Letang would be crippling for the Penguins. There is no replacing the kind of production or leadership he brings to the Penguins.
The sticking point between the Penguins and Letang has rumored to be the length of the new contract.
Letang thinks he can play for another four or five years, which the Penguins look at as a lot for a 35-year-old.
If the Penguins were to lose Letang, it would make sense for the team to totally revamp the blue line from top to bottom.
Since they decided to make him a top priority, however, the options are slimmer, and that’s for the better.
It has been reported that teams have called the Penguins about both John Marino and prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
Regardless of the Letang decision, those two should be in Penguins uniforms come puck drop on the 2022-23 season.
Marino has improved his game and can be a focal point in a post-Letang defense, and Joseph has earned his chance as a full time NHL player.
The curious case of Mike Matheson will continue in Pittsburgh, but it shouldn’t see him reach the first line with Letang.
Matheson has played well enough to stay on the roster, but putting two offensive minded defenders together on one line could spell disaster.
Chad Ruhwedel has plain and simply earned his spot as the sixth defender and Mark Friedman sits right behind him.
Retaining Letang limits opportunities for change on the Penguins defensive core, but there is room for movement, and there are a couple of odd guys out.
Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson both make over $4 million against the cap and have both been finding themselves in trade rumors.
These aren’t bad players by any definition of the word, but they could use a change of scenery to gain new ground in the NHL.
Dumoulin’s role as Letang’s defensive partner is important and difficult to replace, but you have to look at the cap space that could come with shipping off Dumoulin and Pettersson.
With over $8 million on the table, a new name from around the league can enter the fold.
Making Letang a top priority is the right move for the Penguins this offseason, as there is no easy to replace what he brought to the table.
Even with Letang sticking around, there is absolutely room to re-sign Malkin and make other much needed moves on the blue line.
A way too early look at the opening night defense for the Penguins:
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