Letang rejects Penguins’ big offer; Kunitz signs 3-year extension
Defenseman Kris Letang has rejected one of the largest contract offers in the Penguins history.
Letang declined an eight-year contract that would have paid him around $54 million (total) late Thursday, sources told the Tribune-Review.
However, his agent, Kent Hughes, stressed Letang remains only interested in playing for the Penguins.
“We have exchanged offers,” Kent said in a text message. “But (we) have yet to reach an agreement.
“We have not quit.”
The Penguins are willing go as high as $7 million annually — with some wiggle room — to keep Letang, the sources said. Letang is looking for $7.5 million annually, sources said.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero has repeatedly said his wish is to continue building around a core of centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang.
Malkin signed an eight-year contract worth $76 million earlier this month.
Shero did not get his deal with Letang on Thursday, but he made other moves in a busy offseason that has already seen him re-sign Malkin and extend the contracts of Dan Bylsma and the coaching staff.
• Left winger Chris Kunitz agreed to a three-year contract.
• Representatives for impending free agents Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke continued to negotiate terms on potential new deals.
• Forward Craig Adams, also soon to be a free agent, had yet to hear from the Penguins.
• Finally, the future for defenseman Brooks Orpik became a little clearer.
Shero said talks are ongoing with Letang.
Latest on Letang
Free agency begins July 5, and the Penguins do not want to arrive at that date without resolution on Letang’s future, the sources said.
Letang, set to enter the final year of his current contract, can negotiate an extension under terms of the NHL’s new labor contract.
If he accepted the Penguins offer, Letang would rank no worse than sixth among current defensemen with about a $6.75 million salary-cap hit. The offer to Letang could be considered the third most lucrative to retain a player in Shero’s seven-year tenure.
Shero has said since January that signing Letang to a long-term contract is a top priority.
However, Letang’s situation may be playing out similarly to the one faced by center Jordan Staal last summer.
Then, the Penguins presented an offer with little wiggle room — 10 years at around $57 million – and after Staal rejected it, Shero traded him to Carolina for a package that included eighth overall pick (defenseman Derrick Pouliot) at the NHL Entry Draft, center Brandon Sutter and defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin.
Staal, though, never countered the Penguins’ offer last summer.
The Penguins do not pick until the third round of the draft, in Newark, N.J., on Sunday.
The Penguins would want at least one NHL player under contract for several seasons, a top prospect and a first-round pick in exchange for Letang, the sources said.
If a trade was necessary, the Penguins would prefer to move Letang to the Western Conference, and they are intrigued by prospects with Anaheim and Vancouver, the sources said.
Kunitz agreed to a three-year contract that would keep him with the Penguins through the 2016-17 season.
His new deal is for three years at a total of $11.55 million. He will receive a $125,000 annual raise on his current deal, which runs through next season. His salary-cap hit on the new deal is $3.85 million.
The agreement with Kunitz, 33, came together quickly — as did the deal with Malkin earlier this month. By no coincidence, both players expressed a desire to sign long-term deals and below market value.
Shero was set on guaranteeing Crosby would have at least one of his preferred wingers — Kunitz and Dupuis — under contract for beyond next season, the sources said.
Dupuis projects to command a massive raise on his current $1.5 million annual salary after scoring 45 goals over the last two seasons. The Penguins have presented contract proposals to him and Cooke, but both players are 34 and want deals at lengths greater than two years.
Shero is expected to continue negotiations with both players’ representatives through the entry draft. He had not held talks with the agent for Adams, also a pending unrestricted free agent.
Orpik, 32, emerged as another player with one year remaining on his deal who Shero will try to re-sign.
He will count $3.75 million against the cap next season, and the Penguins believe any potential long-term replacement would prove more costly in free agency or by a trade. In March, Shero surrendered second-round picks in the next two drafts for Douglas Murray, like Orpik a physical defenseman.
Murray is set to hit the open market.
The Penguins have only one defenseman (Paul Martin) from their Eastern Conference finalist squad under contract for beyond next season.
The organization is flooded with top-level defensive prospects, but there is concern about forcing too many into the NHL before they are ready.