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The curious case of Letang’s pending contract

By the end of this season, the Penguins’ top defenseman will be 35 years old. Only five active players have signed 35+ contracts— and four of them are on one-year deals.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Seattle Kraken
Kris Letang skates against the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 6, 2021.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Maple Leafs’ No. 1 defenseman, Morgan Reilly, was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2021-22 season. Instead, in the first month of the campaign, Toronto locked Reilly down for eight years with a $7.5 million AAV contract.

Since signing on October 29, Reilly is tied for third among all NHL defensemen with 15 assists in 19 contests as of December 9.

Reilly was already good. But midseason contracts, especially major ones like this, can boost your franchise by giving a vote of confidence to your team and your best defenseman.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs
Letang battles against Toronto’s Morgan Reilly.
Getty Images

Unfortunately, the situation with Pittsburgh’s top defenseman— a UFA at the end of this season— isn’t quite as simple.

In the last year of his current $7.25mil AAV contract, Kris Letang is already the 19th highest paid defenseman in the NHL.

Biggest defensemen extensions in the NHL

Defenseman Team Age when signed Date signed Years AAV
Defenseman Team Age when signed Date signed Years AAV
Erik Karlsson SJS 29 6/17/19 8 11.5
Drew Doughty LAK 28 7/1/18 8 11
Roman Josi NSH 29 9/29/19 8 9.059
Cale Makar COL 22 7/24/21 6 9
Miro Heiskanen DAL 21 7/17/21 8 8.45
Oliver Ekman-Larsson VAN 26 7/1/18 8 8.25
Thomas Chabot OTT 24 9/19/19 8 8
Brent Burns SJS 31 10/22/16 8 8
John Carlson WSH 28 6/25/18 8 8
Victor Hedman TBL 25 7/1/16 8 7.875
Jared Spurgeon MIN 29 9/14/19 7 7.575
Aaron Ekblad FLA 20 7/1/16 8 7.5

Because he will be 35 at the end of this season, Letang’s new deal would be on a 35+ contract.

There are just five active defensemen in the NHL playing on a 35-plus contract— and four of them are on one-year deals.

Active defensemen on 35+ contracts

Defenseman Team Age when signed Date signed Years AAV 2020-21 PP60
Defenseman Team Age when signed Date signed Years AAV 2020-21 PP60
Alex Goligoski MIN 35 7/28/21 1 5 1
Ryan Suter DAL 36 7/28/21 4 3.65 0.9
Alexander Edler LAK 35 7/28/21 1 3.5 0.4
Andy Greene NYI 38 7/17/21 1 1 0.3
Zdeno Chara NYI 44 10/10/21 1 1.5 0.6

None of these comparables, however, are Letang, who regularly averages around two points per 60— and is racking up points at a 1.9/60 rate through December 9.

Like we’ve seen with the Maple Leafs rallying around Reilly, a mid-season extension, even one for a single year, could serve as a vote of confidence for the defenseman that the team leans on for an average of almost 26 minutes per game— but it seems likely that the Penguins will wait to the end of the season to evaluate Letang’s health and production before doing anything, if they’re considering signing him at all.

So what do you think— is Letang closer in comparison to Ryan Suter (four years) or Alexander Edler (just one?)

Either way, both of those 35+ contracts were signed by a different team than the one the player had spent the majority of their career with. Will that be the case for Letang, if the Penguins continue to let the contract situation sit in limbo?