The Penguins went through a spirited practice this morning at Mellon Arena. Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar participated and looked as if they are both close to returning. Malkin and Gonchar were amongst the first Penguins players to hit the ice and participated fully in drills, scrimmages etc.
Dan Bylsma’s update on the two Russians went like this:
“They both have gotten better… but they both are day to day and will be that way until tomorrow.”
The story of the day was obviously the four year contract extensions signed by Kris Letang. Letang may seem like one of the most outgoing players on the team, but put a frothing group of 20 media in front of him and he gets a bit clammed up. The look on his face as he rounded the corner to his stall when he noticed the gaggle of media waiting for him was priceless!
Letang is excited to be staying in Pittsburgh and talked about his deal.
“It feels great, obviously with a team like this. I think that I can now focus on one thing and that’s playing hockey and giving my best to my teammates,” said Letang. “The most exciting thing is coming and I can’t wait to get into the playoffs.”
Letang knows that this team is in the middle of doing some special things, which is why he re-signed. He didn’t want to think about his money possibly affecting Sergei Gonchar, but he hopes that the team can keep him around.
“I think that I want to be a part of this team because it’s something special,” Letang said. “Hopefully we can get him back because he is a pretty important part of this team.”
Letang sounded a lot like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Jordan Staal, Marc Andre Fleury and Alex Goligoski when it came to talking about why he was willing to re-sign as part of the team’s young core.
“I wanted to stay here and am having fun,” Letang said. “I lived something great with these guys and we are like a family now. We are all young and growing together…that was a pretty big part of my decision.”
The deal made sense for the Penguins, as they had a dollar figure in mind for Letang and according to what Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma said in their comments; they were able to hit that number.
“I think he’s one of the better young defensemen in the league so he’s a guy that we are going to continue to build around and he is going to get better as a defenseman,” said Shero. ‘”He is starting to show his leadership on and off the ice.”
When asked how this might affect the negotiations with Sergei Gonchar, Shero seemed to feel that the Letang deal would have no impact whatsoever.
“This doesn’t affect Sergei at all. This was part of our plan to sign Kris Letang who was a restricted free agent at the end of the year,” said Shero. “This doesn’t affect Sergei at all and I am hoping to have Sergei back. Hopefully after the season we will continue those discussions as well. Gonch as been a fantastic player here for five years and we would love to have him back.”
In fact Shero said that his plan always was and still is to try and get both players under contract.
“Our plan all along was to try and sign Letang and Gonchar. So hopefully things will work out with Sergei as well.”
One thing that I have always respected about Ray Shero is that he is quick to give credit to others. He doesn’t take all of the credit for building this Championship team.
“I still want to give the credit to Craig Patrick and Greg Malone who drafted guys like Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang…”
He also didn’t hesitate to share the names of a couple of D-men who are waiting for their chance to could offset the loss of any of the guys he current has on the roster. He mentioned players like Robert Bortuzzo, Ben Lovejoy, Brian Strait and Carl Sneep.
He finished up his presser by explaining once again why getting Letang under contract was part of his plan and so vital to this team’s future.
“His better days are ahead of him obviously…he is a young guy who has performed well in the playoffs for us,” Shero said. “From a planning standpoint it’s a good signing…gets it out of the way and allows him to concentrate on the season.”
Dan Bylsma seemed happy about the signing, though he would like to see Letang improve in a few areas.
“He can really improve in terms of his consistency, being able to match up and play against other teams best players… “ Bylsma said. He did go on to praise the hard work Letang has done in both areas and said that he fully expects him to continue getting better.
Bylsma reiterated what I said above about the team’s plan still being to get Sergei Gonchar under contract.
“I do not think that’s the intention of this contract or the ramification of this contract,” said Bylsma. “I know that we’ve talked all along about being able to sign both players and we knew where Kris Letang was going to end up moneywise. I don’t think it was a one guy or the other situation.
“That does not prohibit us from trying to sign Gonchar,” Bylsma said.
That about covers the day… more later…