By: Casey Shea

The Pittsburgh Penguins wasted no time in signing Evegni Malkin to an eight-year extension worth $74 million.

With Malkin and Sidney Crosby now locked up for the next nine years, is the writing on the wall for Kris Letang?

For much of the last year, the debate among fans has been if you had to pick either Malkin or Letang, which one would it be?

If the Penguins are playing that same game, we got an emphatic answer last week.

Now, the attention turns to Letang.

Letang has one year left on his current deal that pays him a modest $3.5 million. On the open market, I don’t see why he couldn’t and wouldn’t command at least $6 million.

However, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland are also entering the final years of their contracts and will become unrestricted free agents. Simon Despres also has one year left and would become a restricted free agent.

Essentially, the only defenseman the Penguins have signed beyond the 2013-14 season at this moment is Paul Martin.

As a result, you could make a case that the Penguins could find a way to give Letang a decent raise and keep him in town for the foreseeable future.

I suspect the Penguins would very much like to sign Letang long term, but would he accept potentially under-market value to stay?

It’s a fair question to ask at this point.

Again, I still believe his play in the playoffs was extremely poor despite the 16 points he racked up. There were just simply too many turnovers and mental lapses (especially in the Boston series) with a few of them directly leading to goals against (see Game 2).

I also still believe the Penguins should find somebody else to be the quarterback on the power play. Letang’s shots have been getting blocked more often than not, in addition to not being able to gain entry into the zone effectively and consistently.

Much like the Jordan Staal situation, my gut feeling is that the Penguins will only move Letang if they can’t reach an acceptable deal with him.

If the Penguins were to end up trading him, they would almost certainly have to get an NHL-ready defenseman back in the deal. At the end of the day, Letang is a top talent in the league, but the biggest problem with him is a lack of consistency.

When he’s on his game, he’s phenomenal to watch. However, when he’s struggling, it’s like watching a train wreck.

If he could find some form of middle ground, he’d shake many of the critics. Obviously, players are going to have bad games every once in a while. It happens. They’re human. However, when Letang is off his game and gets frustrated, you know a penalty is likely coming or worse – the red light is going off behind the Penguins’ goaltender.

The thing to keep in mind is that he is only 26-years-old. We’re not talking about a guy at the end of his career here. We’re also not talking about a rookie either.

This is a player with an incredible amount of talent, who is entering the prime of his career.

In theory, he could be taught to correct these aspects of his game. The maturation process could also help iron out the wrinkles in his game.

As I stated previously, I’m still not overly convinced he deserved to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season. Being that P.K. Subban actually won the award, I’m starting to question even more about the way award winners are selected in the NHL.

Of the three finalists, Ryan Suter would have been my choice. Letang finished a distant third in the voting as well.

Anyway, the Penguins have a couple of weeks before the NHL Draft in Newark to begin to figure out the rest of their plan for the summer. As it was with Staal, if a trade is coming for Letang, the Draft would seem as likely a time for it to happen as any.

Overall, the free agent pool this summer is pretty thin too. So, if the Penguins are looking to bolster their defense-corps for next season, they might have to get creative.

Time will tell.

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