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Can the Penguins Get Better By Trading Kris Letang?

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Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins trade talk

By now, the story has been well-publicized in print and broadcast media that Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang told teammates that he expects to be traded. Still, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has been far more reserved about the possibility of a shakeup-style Penguins trade.

Rutherford hasn’t closed the door, but he hasn’t put Letang on the NHL trade block in the same way the Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin seems to be dangling Matt Dumba. League sources told PHN about an interested Western Conference team, but the team would have to complete significant changes before making a serious offer.

Otherwise, it’s been quiet on the Penguins trade talks regarding their core players.

Letang, 33, has two more seasons under his current deal, which counts $7.25 million against the salary cap. Before NHL free agency begins on Oct. 9, Letang is current the 15th highest-paid defenseman.

We make that note because there is one primary question about Kris Letang and any Penguins trade talk. Is he still an elite defenseman?

The Pittsburgh Penguins organization is loyal to Letang, and there is a desire to have No. 58 retire in the same uniform he’s worn since he was a third-round pick in the same 2005 draft in which the Penguins selected Sidney Crosby.

But winning is more important.

Before Rutherford could genuinely entertain the Penguins trade, which would remove 1/3 of the remaining core, could the Penguins get good value to become a better team?

First, we’ll compare Letang’s progression over the last two seasons, as a pair with Brian Dumoulin (and ONLY Brian Dumoulin) against the rest of the league pairings. All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

This season, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang ranked sixth in Corsi ranking (58%), which is elite, and 16th in scoring chances (57%). However, the Penguins’ top pairing badly slipped in the percentage of goals-for (61st), and the pair’s on-ice save percentage was awful (.860). They ranked 155th in on-ice save percentage.

Letang had lower baseline stats in 2019-20, too. He had only 44 points in 61 games, compared to 56 points in 65 games last season.

That mixed bag of stats is a contrast of Dumoulin-Letang in 2018-19.

Last season, the Penguins top pairing was a solid 29th in Corsi (54%) but were nearly top-shelf in the goals-for percentage. They ranked 10th with 64%. They also ranked 20th in scoring-chance percentage and an OK 54th in on-ice save percentage.

Of course, the Penguins had goalie issues in 2018-19.

We would use a three-year curve, but 2017-18 was Letang’s recovery season after he suffered a severe neck injury in 2016-17 and had surgery. In addition, we also can’t use a four-year comparison because of Letang’s shortened 2016-17.

But numbers are numbers. I could spin them to make Letang the next Ray Bourque, or twirl them to make Letang look like Rob Scuderi in his final season.

This season, the numbers and the eye test align.

Is Kris Letang still elite? He didn’t have an elite season. The numbers and the eye test agree that Letang did many things right. He is still a straw that stirs the Penguins drink, but he was not as aggressive getting into the scoring zones.

He didn’t add as much offensive pressure.

At 33-years-old, is 2019-20 the beginning of the decline, or was it a down year? We cannot answer that question because the answer is unknowable. The liklihood is that Letang will settle into slightly lesser production for a few seasons because he is in his mid-30s. Age has a way of doing that to players, and Letang has otherwise taken a pounding in the last five-to-seven years.

Letang is the 15th highest-paid defenseman in the game, and that seems to be spot on. He was a bargain when he was chasing Norris Trophies, and in the next couple of seasons, he will be fairly paid. His salary puts him in proper league with Ryan McDonagh, Mark Giordano, Aaron Ekblad, and Ryan Suter.

Torey Krug and Alex Pietrangelo will probably move Letang’s salary rank down a couple of spots, and that is appropriate, too.

Penguins Trade Analysis

Should the Penguins trade Kris Letang, they would need to get a return which made them better immediately. It’s hard to see Rutherford engineering such a deal. The Penguins top-six is set, and trading Letang would create a top-pairing hole, which would need to be filled with a player making about the same or even less money.

Good luck with that.

Cutting past the subtle inference, the Penguins trade would be a matter of shakeup and locker room rearranging, and unlikely about getting better on paper.

Is Letang elite? The answer actually doesn’t matter as much as his fit in the game and his fit with the Penguins. And that is why a Penguins trade involving Letang is unlikely unless an interested party decides to overpay just as Rutherford did for Kasperi Kapanen last month.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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johncwit
johncwit
1 year ago

Sometimes a change can help both parties . Nobody expects him to skate like he’s 23 again but he does not appear able or willing to adapt to a different more cerebral style. I would keep answering the phone if it rings

hockeyfan
hockeyfan
1 year ago
Reply to  johncwit

Letang gets a lot of hype because on occasion he can dazzle in the offensive zone but those rare cases do not balance out how horrible he is one defense. He also takes a lot of bad penalties is a bit of a crybaby out there his shot often is not on net and his half slapper is average at best. Has among the worst pinches of any defenseman in the league often leading to a lot of 2-1’s the other way struggles to keep puck in on the powerplay as well and that leads to breakaways for opponent. If… Read more »

Vittorio DiStazio Jr
Vittorio DiStazio Jr
1 year ago
Reply to  hockeyfan

Yeah and the team won 2 Cups with him so that negates your point. I know exactly what will happen should the Pens trade Tanger: the team struggles and you will be like the other bleeping fans, bleepin and moaning till your blue in the face. Why don’t you or for that matter anyone who thinks there smarter than JR come up with a trade scenario that actually works but guess what nobody will, you’ll respond by saying it’s not my job to make trades and yes you are right but you still will act as if your if you… Read more »

hockeyfan
hockeyfan
1 year ago

those two cups were many years back before the stroke, concussions, collarbone, and a host of other injuries. He is not the skate he once was those wheels could make up for his bad pinches that ship has sailed he doesn’t have the speed or stamina to keep up with younger player which is why he takes more penalties.
the 2017 cup was won without his services their goals against is lower when he is not on the ice and his only contribution is slightly more offense but that doesn’t make up for the bad defensive play.

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 year ago
Reply to  hockeyfan

Really cause I remember him on the 2016 team and he won the cup. I promise you no I guarantee you if Letang is traded you may as well start the demolition.

Cal
Cal
1 year ago

Until you know what the return will be it is impossible to say the team would be better or worse. GMJR has to listen to any offers that comes his way but if they don’t make the team better then it shouldn’t happen. Signed, Captain obvious…..

Anthony
Anthony
1 year ago

Trade his worthless ass ASAP

Kurt Hartz
Kurt Hartz
1 year ago

In my opinion your making it sound like Letang is irreplaceable but fact of the matter is in my opinion Marino is the penguins best defender and is pretty much ready to take that top spot on the 1st pairing with Dumo? As a matter of fact Marino makes it a lot easier to even think about the conversation as a whole !!!

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
1 year ago
Reply to  Kurt Hartz

Well said Kurt.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago
Reply to  Kurt Hartz

I love Marino and think he is absolutely the guy who will emerge as the next great Dman in Pittsburgh. That being said I’m not so sure it’s time to thrust him into that role after one season (a shortened one) in the league. The main question in a Letang trade would be who do we get back to fill the hole on the right side? Marino would literally be our only NHL caliber right handed D. Do we really want him going into his 2nd season being that? You have to get a guy back to play on the… Read more »

hockeyfan
hockeyfan
1 year ago

that not being ready for 1D is such BS he is the no. 1 pens d-man and its not even close. Great players shouldn’t be held back rookie QB’s win superbowls with confidence instilled greatness can be developed instead of coaching out of fear of mistake let the kid play!!

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 year ago
Reply to  hockeyfan

Marino is not ready for that role and if you think he is that fine just don’t start moaning and complaining when it backfires.

Ed Andrews
Ed Andrews
1 year ago

The fact remains if you trade letang or malkin it is a rebuild might as well just trade crosby to like Tampa or Dallas, you guys say trade Letang but what is it going to take (Domi and a 2nd rd pick) I would say get rid of JR he is making stupid trades

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
1 year ago

The Pens won the most recent cup without 58. If a “fair trade” or “equal value” can’t be obtained and I don’t agree with this line of thinking, the relief of his salary would be significant to sign other players to strengthen the team. IMO Marino is ready to be bumped up with Dumo. Build around 87 and 71.
Go Pens.

Jack
Jack
1 year ago

The Penguins can get better by trading JJ. Letang is solid if his d partner is. (Most of the time)

hockeyfan
hockeyfan
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack

no team wants johnson esp. at that awful salary

Web1350
1 year ago
Reply to  hockeyfan

Buy out JJ. The cost is just barely over 1 mil per season for, I believe, 6 years. That’s a long time but 1 mil is beer money in today’s market.

Keith Thomas
Keith Thomas
1 year ago

It is hard to know how much movement there will be across the league. With the tight cap space AND positioning for the Expansion Draft teams are going to seek to make trades for a variety of reasons. Thinking about what 3/4 D-men you protect needs to be considered. Of course, Letang will have one season remaining on his contract at that time. Do you protect him or let him go for NOTHING? To me, you have to put this into the equation as motivation to make a reasonable trade that improves the team. Letang has the best edges on… Read more »

trackback

[…] Seemingly yearly the Penguins don’t come dwelling with the Cup, rumors get thrown round involving some core Penguins gamers. This offseason will likely be Kris Letang’s flip at avoiding the rumors involving a possible commerce. Might Pittsburgh really win in a Letang commerce? [Pittsburgh Hockey Now] […]

Zach Smith
Zach Smith
1 year ago

Maybe we can get better by signing Alex Pietrangelo…and then trading Kris Letang.

hockeyfan
hockeyfan
1 year ago
Reply to  Zach Smith

i’d rather have a younger d-man that Alex P. but agree he would be an upgrade over le-turnover

Zach Smith
Zach Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  hockeyfan

Do you realize how stupid that nickname is? He’s not even top 10 in total turnovers the last 5 years.

And really, what reason do you morons even have for hating Letang?

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 year ago
Reply to  Zach Smith

Because Pens Fans foolishly believe there smarter than JR which if it was true they would be the GM and not JR.

Chris Kozub
Chris Kozub
1 year ago
Reply to  Zach Smith

Alex P will command north of 11m per yr… Letang is 7m per and we can’t afford that. I’m not a huge Letang fan, but I’m also not a hater. To think we can get someone cheaper who is also better isn’t going to happen. Letang will be a Penguin until his contract is up.

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