By Rob Rossi
Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:03 p.m.
Kris Letang prefers to play for the Penguins.
He also prefers to play for a team that believes he is its best defenseman.
Letang, coming off his first Norris Trophy (top defenseman) nomination, has grown uneasy about his standing within the organization, sources said Wednesday.
The Tribune-Review recently reported that some members of management and coaches rated Paul Martin as the club’s best defenseman last season.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero remains high on Letang, especially his upside.
He repeatedly has stated a desire to work out a long-term contract with Letang, 26.
However, Shero has not ruled out any option, including a trade.
Letang does not have a full- or limited-movement clause in his contract, and he has not requested a trade.
He reiterated Wednesday that his focus is on working out a new contract with the Penguins.
However, Toronto has emerged as a potential destination if there is a breaking point with the Penguins, the sources said.
To trade Letang, the Penguins would seek the return of an NHL-ready player under contract, at least one top prospect and a potential first-round draft pick, the sources said.
Last summer, Shero traded center Jordan Staal at the NHL Entry Draft after Staal informed of his intention not to sign a long-term contract.
The Penguins landed Carolina’s first-round pick (Derrick Pouliot), center Brandon Sutter and defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin for Staal.
The next Entry Draft is Sunday, but Shero has said there is no immediate timetable to make a final call on Letang’s future.
He also has said the situation with Staal last summer set no precedent to trade Letang.
Letang’s agent, Kent Hughes, said he and Shero are “still talking.”
“No resolution at this point,” Hughes said.
Letang tied for the NHL lead among defensemen with 38 points despite missing 13 games.
He was first among defensemen and ninth overall with 16 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He and centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a point in a sweep in the Eastern Conference final.
Penguins coaches told Letang that his Games 3 and 4 at Boston rated highest among any he played in the postseason.
Set to enter the final year of his deal, Letang can negotiate a new contract and sign it July 5, when the new NHL calendar year begins.
Letang will count $3.5 million against the Penguins’ salary cap next season. There are 11 defensemen with average annual salaries of at least $6 million.
The Penguins have seven players eligible to become unrestricted free agents July 5.
Shero remains in heaviest negotiations with the representatives for wingers Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke.
Dupuis’ agent, Allan Walsh, said he plans to meet with Shero in Newark, N.J., site of the Entry Draft.