It appears things may be coming to a breaking point between the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenceman Kris Letang. If this is indeed the end of Letang’s brilliant career as a Penguin and he hits unrestricted free agency, Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes would be wise not to be tempted by the demands of his former client, but rather continue building his defence from within.
On the most recent episode of the 32 Thoughts podcast, Elliotte Friedman cast a lot of doubt on the future of Letang in Pittsburgh, stating that both sides had failed to come to terms on the framework of a new deal.
“When it came to Letang, I just heard that philosophically, they were not in the same spot,” said Friedman on the ongoing negotiations between the club and their top defenceman. ” I don’t know if that’s changed. All of this is going to be serious right now. I just heard that when it came to what Letang was thinking and what Pittsburgh was thinking, they weren’t on the same page.”
If Letang does effectively reach free agency this summer, the easy link can be made to the Montreal Canadiens, as his former agent and general manager of the club could easily use a right-shooting defenceman; especially if they succeed in moving Jeff Petry.
Montreal Canadiens Should Steer Clear
The issue is simply that adding Kris Letang for anything more than what he’s earned now, which seems to be where this is going, would put the Canadiens in the same Salary Cap problematic that they’re already in right now. With the health of Carey Price up in the air, the glut of young defencemen coming up and the desire to build a long-term contender on the team; it simply doesn’t make sense to give a guy like Letang north of $7M on multiple years. Even though Letang would instantly be Montreal’s #1 defenceman and could help in a leadership role over the next couple of seasons, it could significantly inhibit the Canadiens from having the financial flexibility that Hughes has been seeking since he was named general manager.
Kent Huges has spoken in the past about how he’d like the Montreal Canadiens to be players during the NHL Free Agency period, but the reason behind the acquisition of said free agents became a little clearer when listening to Hughes. He seemed far more interested in acquiring stopgaps for the time being. He didn’t feel comfortable throwing three or more rookies into his defensive brigade, even if their play or talent warranted it.
“Our priority will be to put our youngsters in the right environment to develop,” said Hughes during his exit interviews regarding his plan to fill out his roster, especially on defence, next year. “Bringing in three rookies to play on our defensive brigade for a full 82-games is not a risk we’re going to take.”
Although Hughes was straightforward about his desire to add some much-needed leadership to a group that was without Carey Price and Shea Weber for most of the season, he later clarified that it would not be an expensive venture, if at all.
Focus on Bringing In Temporary Veterans
Taking to the airwaves of TSN690 earlier this month, Hughes indicated that it was unlikely that the Montreal Canadiens would be going big game hunting this summer, due in large part to their lack of space under the Salary Cap.
“Most people think of free agency as like ‘Kadri’s going to be available’ or ‘Malkin’s going to be available’, but I don’t anticipate the Montreal Canadiens being in that market for a five-star, free agent player,” said Hughes when asked to qualify how the club was planning to be active in free agency. “We’ll look at ways, and there may not be any, but we’ll look at situations where we can make moves to improve our team that we can afford to make, both financially and in line with our (short-term and long-term) interests.”
Hughes did mention that, if he can get Jeff Petry‘s $6.25M Cap hit off the books, it will provide them with significant flexibility heading into the free agency period. However, that doesn’t look like it will force Hughes to go and overpay for a player that could impede the development of youngsters Justin Barron, Jordan Harris and more.
“When we talk about a Jeff Petry, if we moved him, I indicated that we would lose an experienced defenceman. We don’t want to put our young defencemen in a situation where we’re putting them in situations that they’re not necessarily ready for, and we don’t want to do anything to impede their development. So, if a player like Jeff Petry gets moved, with that will come Cap flexibility, but also a requirement on our part to bring somebody on with some level of experience.”
That experience can come in many cheaper forms and on short-term deals this offseason, be it via free agency or trade. There are a few defencemen that Montreal could target with short-term deals, like PK Subban, Justin Braun, Colin Miller or Jan Rutta, that could fill the void while the key youngsters of this team develop. It would be easy to give Letang, who has had a Hall of Fame career thus far, the keys to the safe, but it would be in the Montreal Canadiens’ best long-term interests to maintain Cap flexibility in order to re-sign their top youngsters and make moves that could better the club long-term.