The Pittsburgh Penguins locked up another elite young player long term, announcing Tuesday they had agreed to terms with defenseman Kris Letang.
A finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman, Letang received an eight-year, $58 million contract extension. He would have entered the final season of an existing contract that carried an annual salary-cap hit of $3.5 million. That will now jump to $7.25 beginning in 2014-15, before which Letang was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
Letang, 26, tied for the scoring lead among NHL defensemen last season with 38 points in 35 games. He has 44 goals and 165 assists in 385 career games over six-plus seasons.
Letang joins star centers Sidney Crosby (12 years, $104.4 million) and Evgeni Malkin (eight years, $76 million) as players the Penguins have given long-term contracts to in the past 13 months.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, Letang cannot sign till Friday. The pact — the longest allowable by terms of the new collective bargaining agreement — will run through the 2021-22 season, when the 6-foot, 201-pound native of Montreal will be 35.
Beginning in 2014-15, the Penguins are committing $25.45 of salary-cap space to just three players for every season until 2021-22.
For the 2014-15 season alone — counting contracts given wingers James Neal and Chris Kunitz, defenseman Paul Martin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury — the organization already has $44.3 million of cap space accounted for just seven players.
The salary cap for the 2013-14 season is projected at $63.4 million, although it is expected to increase dramatically the following year.
The swift and skilled Letang is one of the NHL’s top offensive defensemen. But at times, the former third-round pick has been criticized for play in the defensive end — most recently during a stunning sweep of the Penguins by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. Letang had no points in the series and was a minus-5 over the first two games alone.
Vincent Lecavalier, Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov have injected some more intrigue into NHL free agency.
So much so that Lecavalier kicked off the annual signing period Tuesday, three days before it officially began, by signing a multiyear contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The deal reflects the impact the addition of several veterans who had their contracts bought out have made in boosting interest in a free-agent crop that lacked star power a year after Ryan Suter and Zach Parise created a buzz by hitting the market and landing in Minnesota.
Lecavalier was able to shop around early because he was bought out.
“The depth isn’t what it has been in past years, but there are some very good players available,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “It’s a different situation, though, with the lower cap, so it’ll be interesting to see what this crop of free agents gets both in terms of salary and years.”