The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a tough spot this offseason as general manager (GM) Ron Hextall has his work cut out for him with a number of big-name free agents set to hit the open market. Defenseman Kris Letang may be the biggest piece of them all as the Penguins’ legend still has a ton of game left and desires to play for four or five more seasons. Hockey insider Elliotte Friedman recently shared he believes the Penguins offered an in-season extension of a four-year deal at just under $7 million per season, but no agreement was reached.
It would be great to see Pittsburgh have all of their team return next season, but the business of a hard salary cap can make operations tough at times. While the Penguins will surely have a great shot at getting Letang to stay, as Pittsburgh is where his heart lies, the Montreal Canadiens and his old agent Kent Hughes will be waiting by the phone lines on July 13 when free agency opens. If Letang does indeed leave, let’s examine seven options for the Penguins to replace his minutes.
John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins
Let’s start internally and the Penguins have a good one in John Marino. The Harvard grad has shown he has all the tools to be a No. 1 defenseman at some point and time in his career; is now the time? He is under a great contract at $4.4 million annually through the 2026-27 season and is coming off a season where he was third on the team in ice-time per game.
If Marino is going to indeed be “the guy,” he’s going to see his ice time creep up a couple of minutes and he’ll get a longer look on the power play as he only averaged 0:55 in 2021-22, meanwhile Letang averaged 3:28. There’s no doubt that the bigger role for Marino would include playing more on special teams and that’s likely why fans would see a spike in his offensive production after a decent season with 25 points in 81 games.
Comparing the two career paths, Letang’s third full season in the league saw him post 27 points and it wasn’t until his fourth season in Pittsburgh where his ice time spiked and his production went way up to 50 points. Perhaps we see the exact same learning curve for Marino as he enters his fourth season in 2022-23.
Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks
The trade route would be interesting for Hextall and company because of the fact Pittsburgh has so many pending free agents that management may not want to also part with some young assets. If they decide a trade partner is needed, the Vancouver Canucks make a ton of sense as president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin know the Penguins’ system better than anyone. Both executives spent a number of seasons in Pittsburgh and a deal between the two clubs this summer makes a ton of sense with defenseman Tyler Myers being involved. Rutherford recently mentioned to Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli, the club would love to create some more salary cap flexibility this offseason.
Hextall would be adding some serious size with the towering 6-foot-8 blueliner, and the good news is there’s some cost-savings, as he makes less than Letang at $6 million and is signed for two more seasons. While Myers had a full no-trade clause, it goes down to only 10 teams of his choice on July 1, making it much more likely to be moved.
While this addition wouldn’t necessarily be replacing apples with apples, the Penguins wouldn’t need to worry about that as Marino could easily step up into the top pair and Myers can hang back on the second pair with Michael Matheson or Brian Dumoulin.