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Kingerski: It’s Time to Appreciate Kris Letang

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Kris Letang (left) and Sidney Crosby (right)
SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 26: Pittsburgh Penguins defender Kris Letang (58) and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) celebrate at the NHL All-Star Game on January 25, 2019, at SAP Center in San Jose, CA (Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire)

At the age of 32, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang received legitimate Norris Trophy consideration last season. He received three second-place votes and 49 writers included him on their ballot. The votes by themselves do not prove anything but the stats with the superior play merited being in the conversation with the best. Yet, the sometimes fickle Penguins fan base often holds his down moments and mistakes against him well beyond the expiration date.

Letang has three Stanley Cup rings, five All-Star Game appearances and a pair of second-team All-Star awards. There are few defensemen in the league like Letang and the others generally make truckloads of money.

The lightning rod defenseman suffered a serious neck injury in early 2017 during what was potentially a Norris Trophy-winning season. The injury caused him to miss the remainder of the 2016-17 season including the Penguins Stanley Cup championship and greatly limited him in 2017-18. However, Letang was healthy and unincumbered last season. He scored 56 points (16g, 40a) in 65 games before a late-season injury caused him to miss several weeks. Aside from Sidney Crosby, Letang was the Penguins best player.

It was a conversation with season ticket holder this week which spurred the thoughts and I promised I would write about it. The Penguins may have a problem scoring enough goals, or at very least it is a concern until proven otherwise. I’ve heard the suggestion many times before just as I did again this week, “He doesn’t play defense, why don’t they try Letang on the wing?”

That’s the funny thing about Letang. He does play defense. He doesn’t just lineup as a defenseman, or carry the D before his name as if he’s appearing on C-SPAN. Letang is one of the rare breeds of defensemen who plays 25 minutes per game, defends against the opponent’s top line, and plays on both ends of the rink. His skating is well above average, he’s become one of the best power-play points in the league, he is physical (sometimes to the chagrin of the Penguins) and believe it or not, he takes care of the defensive zone.

Despite facing the opponent’s best, Letang boasts positive puck possession (53.5% Corsi).

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

So, perhaps it’s time to appreciate Kris Letang.

That’s not to say he is above criticism for the occasional defensive miscue or turnover. Sure, even this writer created a little viral stir with criticism in the moments following a botched coverage in the 2017 Round Two, Game 6 which ended the Penguins two-year Stanley Cup reign.

After watching Letang struggle through 2017-18, it was easy to believe the end was nigh. After the neck injury and limited season, the Penguins wondered the same internally, too. But the rock star rebound which occurred last season was more than impressive. Letang figuratively made us eat our words.

Not just homers, but writers around the league noticed Letang, too.

But what about those gaffes, turnovers, miscues and a seemingly large plate of mistakes? Well, an examination of the statistics of the top defensemen in the league put those in perspective, too. Letang was not great, or healthy, in the Penguins Round One loss to the New York Islanders last April. Like the rest of his teammates, Letang had a series to forget, but the totality of his comeback season shouldn’t be tarnished or washed away.

Those moments should be put into context. The other best defensemen in the game such as Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and John Carlson make the same mistakes. Perhaps they are unavoidable in a constant high stakes game.

The Penguins could struggle to find themselves this season. There is a feeling of change and uncertainty. But no, Kris Letang shouldn’t play on the wing. He’s just fine on defense.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Cal

    September 10, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Glad you mentioned other of the NHL premiere d make the same mistakes. It happens. The game is full of mistakes. There is not a player in the league now or ever that has not made mistakes. To put Letang on the wing is ridiculous, think about it….”lets put the teams best player at one position to another postion where he is not proven” I dont see any logic in weakening the team that way. Yes Letang can be frustrating to watch sometimes but he is THE best we have so we need to get on board and support him.

  2. JCW

    September 10, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Tired of hearing that he was a legitimate Norris candidate. Everyone knows that the Norris trophy has absolutely nothing to do with how well someone defends. And that is his problem. He’s not great at playing defense. He has his moments, but mostly he has terrible lapses where he forgets to do the simple/smart things that every defender should do. Unfortunately for him, that has happened a lot in the playoffs… in overtime… in back to back seasons. Now that he’s getting older, he needs to change the way he plays. His skating can no longer make up for his pitiful metal game. Since he disagrees that a change is needed, things are only going to get worse. They should have traded him while he was still worth something.

    • Safely Anonymous

      September 23, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      couldn’t agree more; his constant yapping a refs when it is obvious to anyone he just committed a penalty because i feel is his skating or lack of thereof is causing him more issues because he never had good hockey IQ but after all of the injuries his wheels cannot hide his poor decisions out there the islander series leddy looked like bobby orr out there compared to etang

  3. Edgar

    September 10, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    I’m one of those fickle fans! But, make no mistake about it, I was extremely hopeful he would stay here and get a huge contract when it happened a few years ago. I also think, that at the top of his game, he’s as good as any defensemen in the league. That’s the positive.
    He makes mistakes. Doozies. Whoppers. Ones, let’s face it, ones so bad we actually giggle at. It’s the package. I think he can be a bit smarter. I don’t think that’s tremendously bad criticism. Even tho he takes it that way. Yes, I’d like him to be a bit smarter out there. Be more aggressive when the other team’s LESS talented players are on the ice. Play a little safer. I’m convinced it can be done!! Although I’m not convinced it can be done in today’s NHL. He also gets to play more minutes than anyone in history with Crosby. Life is good.

  4. Matt Luda

    September 11, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    The Saga of Kristopher Letang: Million-dollar talent, 10-cent brain.

  5. Safely Anonymous

    September 23, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    he has been overrated since day 1; he’ll never be in the norris conversation because he can’t last a whole season and his playoff performances are nightmares

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