What's next for Pittsburgh and Letang?

Updated: June 14, 2013, 2:00 PM ET
By Craig Custance

It started with comments Ray Shero made during his year-end press conference last spring. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford noticed that Shero mentioned he might not be able to keep all three of his centers -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- long term.

After hearing that, Rutherford called Shero to plant the seed.

"I called him and said, 'If you're not keeping Staal, let me know,'" Rutherford said during a Thursday phone conversation. Rutherford let some time pass, then placed one more call with a simple message: Don't forget about me.

In the meantime, the Hurricanes' front office broke down every possible possibility of who they'd be willing to give up if Staal hit the market. A lot of legwork was done, so that when Shero finally called Rutherford at 4 p.m. on the day of the draft, he was ready. A deal was struck.

On Thursday, Shero spoke with the media to talk about the Evgeni Malkin contract extension. General managers around the league were surely listening for clues from Shero as to how that deal affects the Penguins' ability to sign defenseman Kris Letang to a contract extension. Letang is entering the final season of his contract, which comes with a cap hit of $3.5 million. After next season, Crosby and Malkin will have cap hits totaling $18.2 million per season, and Shero has to decide whether he wants to commit big money to a third player in Letang.

As of Thursday afternoon, Letang's camp hadn't heard from Shero but anticipated that negotiations would get serious within the next week.

In his comments to the media on Thursday, Shero made it clear that his priority is to sign Letang, but he didn't completely rule out a trade. It's going to come down to negotiations and how much of a discount Letang is willing to provide Pittsburgh to stay with that group. If he hits the market, his ticket would be huge.

As a free agent, the starting point would be $7-8 million per season at max length. To stay in Pittsburgh, it may have to be an eight-year deal closer to $6.5 million. Letang understands that the best deal will come on the open market; it's just finding out how big the difference is going to be. Those are conversations the two sides still need to have. And executives around the league will be watching closely.