Contract talks with free-agent-to-be Kris Letang have stalled, however, general manager Ray Shero believes an agreement will be reached.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- Eventually, Ray Shero says, a decision must be made.
At some point, negotiations on a new contract for defenseman Kris Letang will have to be wrapped up.
Still, Shero said Saturday he isn't ready to set a deadline for that just yet, which means it's far from certain Letang's future will be resolved before the NHL draft at 3 p.m. today at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
He even seemed to float the possibility that talks could be suspended at some point and picked up later, though that seems unlikely.
"There's a point in a negotiation when you have to make a decision," he said. "Kris is going to have to make one at one time, and so am I.
"That doesn't mean if you don't agree on a contract, he's getting traded. There's no guarantee, of course, but it's one of those things where maybe we just need a little break, to kind of see where it takes us."
Whether Shero and Letang's agent, Kent Hughes, can find enough common ground to strike a deal is unclear, though both sides have been consistent in saying that is their intent.
"I know he's happy in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh's happy having him," Shero said. "He's a good person, a great kid and I believe he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.
"And we're going to try to see if we can make that happen [in a way] that makes sense for both sides."
That, clearly, has been the tough part.
Late last week, Letang rejected an eight-year offer that would have doubled his $3.5 million salary. Hughes is believed to have countered with a proposal worth at least $500,000 more per year, and the Penguins obviously didn't accept it.
"An extra $250,000 here, another $500,000 here. ... It all adds up," Shero said.
Hughes said Saturday evening he had spoken with Shero and added, "We'll see what happens."
Shero said "a couple of teams" have inquired about Letang's availability in trades, but have been rebuffed.
"They read the paper," he said. " 'Just in case, if you don't do something, can you keep us in mind?' I haven't explored any of that, and I don't think that's productive at this point. Our goal is to try to sign him.
"I can't try to sign a guy and try to trade him at the same time. I'm going to try to sign him and the next day or so, we'll see how this goes."
Working out contracts with Letang and unrestricted-free-agents-to-be such as Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Craig Adams, and today's draft -- with their first two selections not until Round 3, the Penguins are trying to move up to at least the second round -- are Shero's most pressing concerns at the moment, but he has added another facet to his job description.
He formally was introduced as the associate general manager of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team Saturday at a news conference in Times Square. Dan Bylsma was named head coach of that squad at the same time.
Team USA earned a silver medal at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, losing to Canada in overtime of the championship, and a lackluster performance in the winter in Sochi, Russia, wouldn't go over well.
"Hockey in our country has come to the point where winning the gold medal is not a miracle," USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio said. "It's an expectation."
Bylsma has not chosen his assistants yet but he, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and Shero have discussed the qualities, such as international experience, that would enhance his staff.
Bylsma noted he has no experience coaching the international game and said he plans to immerse himself "the next couple of months" in information about matters such as national styles of play so that it doesn't interfere with his duties with the Penguins after training camp opens in September.
There won't be much time to absorb such knowledge during the Olympic break, he said, because "literally, we're going to be dropping our stuff in the NHL and getting on a plane and a couple of days later, we're going to be playing our first [Olympic] game."
Consequently, Bylsma said, he already has reached out to longtime NHL coach Ron Wilson, who led Team USA in Vancouver and has extensive international experience, and will do so with other coaches who have competed in tournaments outside of North America.
Despite Bylsma's lack of international work, Poile said he was chosen because the USA Hockey decisions-makers "wanted a winner" who could "handle star players," of which Bylsma has several with the Penguins.
Bylsma acknowledged being "acutely aware" of the challenges posed by players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but having to deal with them in Sochi wouldn't alter his bottom-line goal.
"We have one objective," Bylsma said. "That's to go to Sochi and win gold."