Ray Shero starts every conversation about a player's future the same way: He asks whether that player wants to stay with the Penguins.
Defenseman Kris Letang recently answered “yes,” but that does not mean he will stay.
Letang could play hockey with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for a long time if he is agreeable to an annual salary around $6 million and a limited-movement clause.
Those are the projected terms for keeping Letang, at least on the Penguins' end.
Letang has other ideas about his worth, but that is only one reason general belief within the Penguins is that he is on the way out.
No club should willingly hand over more than $6 million annually to a defenseman who has yet to establish himself among his peers as a dominant goal scorer or power-play quarterback.
Shero has grown in many ways since taking over the Penguins' hockey operations in May 2006. Most notably, he has grown into a decisive, confident decision-maker.
Three years ago, he finalized a quick deal with Paul Martin while the Penguins' top free-agent defensive target, Dan Hamhuis, stalled as a team-imposed deadline to sign approached.
Last summer, Shero had a 10-year contract ready for center Jordan Staal, who rejected the offer. Staal was traded within a few days.
This past March, with the annual trade deadline a couple of weeks away, Shero acquired wingers Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla and defenseman Douglas Murray before the Penguins' chief Eastern Conference challengers made any moves. That Morrow, Iginla and Murray did not help the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final does not diminish the boldness of Shero's actions.
Shero has become the man who wastes no time carrying out his plans.
More proof came last week in the form of contract extensions for coach Dan Bylsma and his staff and the eight-year deal for Malkin. Shero wanted those issues off the table before he turned toward other matters — specifically, trying to keep winger Pascal Dupuis from becoming a free agent on July 5 and Letang's future.