The Pittsburgh Penguins core, which won three Stanley Cups and resurrected a hockey town which almost did not survive the preceding dark years, is nearly gone. Kris Letang trade rumors, which began in earnest Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada, are gaining steam. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Letang are all that remains of the Penguins resurgence.
The 2017 Stanley Cup was indeed their last ride.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who was the first cornerstone of the past decade, and Chris Kunitz are gone. The previous bedrock players like Brooks Orpik, Jordan Staal, and Pascal Dupuis have also moved on or been moved.
The Penguins core, whittled down to three, has struggled in 2017. There are too many tertiary players and too few indispensable figures. Too many replaceable players, too few irreplaceable players.
If the Penguins hope to sustain their window of dominance, the core must be rebuilt. That doesn’t mean Letang must be traded, but it does mean a Letang trade must bring a core player, or at least impressive depth, in return.
One less core player is not a recipe for success. So, the ask for Letang must be significant and for significant people.
What’s the Ask?
The Penguins defense is still towards the bottom of the league in most categories; offensive and defensive. To deal Letang and not get a top pairing defenseman in the direct return or subsequent deal would be bad news.
Imagine a blue line corps of Dumoulin-Maatta, Hunwick-Schultz, Cole-Oleksiak. That’s really bad news.
So, a Letang deal is both enticing and potentially disastrous.
Rutherford, despite being over 65 years old is still faster than hockey media (In fairness, we’re not always an athletic lot though some still inexplicably wear sweatpants to work). The former NHL goalie is a master at figuratively flashing the glove side, only to take it away a moment later.
Rutherford does not hesitate when the deal is right, nor does he linger for weeks over a decision. Did anyone see the Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley deal coming? By Rutherford’s admission, it took less than a week.
If not for dealing with Toronto, or getting caught in an organization free-for-all with pounding fists at the draft table, one wonders if the Phil Kessel trade would have been known before it was done?
Letang Trade Talk is Serious
General Managers typically don’t discuss players with Letang’s high profile unless they are serious about a deal. From the national level to the local level–read Matt Gajtka’s piece here–the talk is legitimate. (Go ahead, click on Matt’s article. He’s one of the good guys).
So, for the second time in his career, there is legitimate Letang trade talk.
Rumors of a Letang deal first surfaced in 2013, but that was the height of the Penguins player-centric marketing push. Back then, winning was seen as a given and merchandise sales were pushed like a Disney movie franchise purchased from an iconic filmmaker then ruined (ahem, Jedi).
In fact, Penguins were strongly rumored to have a deal in place in 2013, which was scuttled by the organization because of the aforementioned merchandising concerns. Over the years, multiple trusted sources have told the story.
Sweater sales are unlikely to impede a deal in 2018. And, certainly any Letang deal will be for more than a third line center.
Later today, PHN will examine potential suitors. Stay tuned.