CRANBERRY, Pa. — Kris Letang was direct when asked how he felt entering his 14th season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Just older, I guess,” Letang said. “One year older.”
That was the overriding sentiment when the 32-year-old defenseman met the media following an informal skate Tuesday. Not that Letang is close to being done. He has three seasons remaining on an eight-year contract signed July 1, 2013, and wants to capitalize on any time he has left.
Letang said he thinks the same could be said for centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who enter their 14th and 15th NHL seasons, respectively.
“I’m one year closer to retirement,” Letang said. “I try to make as much as I can during my time in the NHL. Obviously, we’re three guys in this dressing room that want to win as much as we can until we’re done.”
That group of three has won the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016, 2017). It was disappointed by the past two seasons, when a six-game loss to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference Second Round ended hopes of a three-peat, and a four-game sweep to the New York Islanders in the first round ended last season.
“We want to win every year,” Letang said. “Maybe we wasted one year, last year. But this year is a new year, and the only thing that I’m thinking of.”
So Letang won’t look back, even if he mostly returned to form last season.
Letang scored nine goals in 79 games in 2017-18 after having neck surgery the week of April 13, 2017, then rebounded by tying his NHL career-high with 16 goals in 65 games last season. But Letang said he hasn’t thought much about the resurgence.
That’s especially true since it still led to trade speculation once Pittsburgh was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Letang, Malkin and forward Phil Kessel were each involved in trade rumors. Kessel was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk on June 29.
“It kind of sends you a message of how good the League is when you can trade guys like this and get better in different areas, and try to change your lineup,” Letang said. “So it tells you that you have to bring your ‘A’ game every night and try to be the best player out there. So many good players. I’m pretty happy to be a Penguin one more year, I guess.”
Kessel’s absence will change things on the top power-play unit, where Letang is normally the quarterback. Letang chose not to speculate on exactly how the power play could look once training camp opens Friday.
“[Kessel is] a great player. He was a great player on our power play,” Letang said. “A good passer. Can enter the zone with control. Somebody has to take that role and maybe try to fill his spot, but maybe in a different way. Maybe in a shooting role or something like that. It’s too early to tell.”
As for Letang’s plans? They’re simple.
“Wherever I’m going to play, I have to bring my best,” Letang said. “That’s it.”