Riding the Trade Letang TrainPosted: 19/06/2013
In the first days after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs Mike and I set out to evaluate players and determine whether the Penguins should hold onto them or if they should at least be entertained as tradeable (or simply not brought back if they are pending free agents). At this time it seems unlikely that we’ll get that post finished (for a myriad of reasons) but here is what we had to say about Letang (Mike’s thoughts are first, mine are in the part that is cleverly titled “Andrew’s addendum”:
Kris Letang – I’ve had my suspicions about 58 since the Pens so ungracefully bowed out of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round against Philadelphia. Offensively, he’s a stud. He’s constantly in the conversation about top-producing defensemen in the NHL which is great. But here’s a question that I’ll be asking a lot (and so should you): is that what the Pens need? He logs a ton of minutes every night; he nearly matched Chara in Game 3 in terms of minutes logged. The difference is the shutdown. Zdeno Chara shuts people down (as evidenced by Crosby and Malkin combining for 0 points this series). Letang gives up what seems like a breakaway every other game. Sure he can “recover” because of his speed and conditioning, but I’d rather see defenseman who doesn’t give up that break and just retreats and forces that defender to dump and chase into a corner like Bylsma’s system calls for. He did a piss poor job of quarterbacking the powerplay most of the season. It was covered by the unreal play of the Pens’ forwards, but was brutally exposed by Boston. He’s going to ask for a ton of money this offseason (keeping in mind that his comparative counterpart Erik Karlsson earned a contract for 6.5 mil a season. Think about it.)
Andrew’s addendum: if you aren’t a woman do you actually like Kris Letang? And if you are a woman do you actually like him as a hockey player? Be honest. He’s infuriating in the defensive zone, he’s scary in the offensive zone, and he isn’t what the Penguins need on the power play. As such the Penguins should do the right thing and sell high on the guy. I don’t think the Penguins could even get so lucky as to convince Letang to think about a $6.5 million/year deal (he’ll want at least $7mil), there’s too much talent built up behind him that is atrophying each day (ahem, Simon Despres), and he doesn’t have the composure necessary to ever be a truly all-time great defender. As such, in my book he’s just another hockey player, the Pens need to move him or else they can at best hope to see him walk away for nothing after next year (the worst case is he signs long-term and fails to live up to his contract).
He’s one of probably only three defensemen in the whole NHL who can bear the mantle of being “the face of a franchise” (along with Erik Karlsson and PK Subban), and he’s the only one of those three that is likely to hit the open market anytime soon (admittedly Subban will be an RFA after next season again, but he is on what is known as his “bridge contract” similar to what Letang will be ending next year, to bridge between his entry-level deal and the big money he would expect to make as an elite veteran of the league). Whether you like Kris Letang or not, he carries a level of panache that his “better” contemporaries like Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Suter and even teammate Paul Martin don’t have. And that makes him more valuable to teams in need of an identity than he is to the Penguins, who are still identified by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and all the other explosive offensive players and outputs. So with that said, the time is right to trade Kris Letang.
We know that the best venue to do that would be at the draft. For one, the Penguins SHOULD make it a priority to earn a first (or at the very least a second round pick, more on that later) back in this so-called legendary draft. Secondly, they’ll never be able to sell AS HIGH on Letang if they don’t trade him at the draft. Waiting for the trade deadline could be problematic: some teams would only offer on Letang as a “rental” which would obviously be a low return for the Penguins. And few teams that would be willing to pay the full price for his services tend to be buyers at the trade deadline (although I can think of one exception to that, which will be discussed later, like in a separate post).
So we know who the trade target is, we know when the trade should go down, the question that seems really important to us though, is what can the Penguins actually get in return?
The single most important thing for the Penguins to get in exchange for Kris Letang would be a stay-at-home Top 4 defenseman (and if he happens to shoot right-handed that’s a big plus). One of the biggest holes in the Penguins last year was that they only had three “Top 4” defensemen: Letang, Martin, and Brooks Orpik, and assuming that HCDB sticks to his word about utilizing Simon Despres in that role next year, the Penguins will still need one more player to fill out the Top 4. Given that Martin, Despres, and Orpik are all left-handed shots, a righty would be good to fill out the pairings.
With that said, one team stands above all the others to fit that need: the Colorado Avalanche, specifically, they would need to give up Erik Johnson. He’s a hulking 6’4” 236 lbs, he shoots right, he has understated offensive skills, he was part of the US Olympic team that won silver in 2010, he’s signed for another 3-years at a very agreeable $3.75 million and he’s younger than Letang. In the same way that Brandon Sutter was essential to the Jordan Staal trade, the same can be said of Erik Johnson in this trade, he fills the need and there are only so many teams that can offer the same return.
Of course the treat with the Avalanche is that they have the first overall pick, and they are very unlikely to exchange that AND Johnson for Kris Letang. Instead, the Penguins would likely need to settle for the first pick of the second round, which most people contend will still be a great, potential all-star pick. From there the Avs would likely need to include include a second roster player. Certainly our preference would be for a guy who has long been discussed as an ideal fit in the Penguins system: David Jones. He’s very much in the vain of Chris Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis except younger, and bigger. That’s about all you need to know.
An interesting variable could be Seymon Varlamov. He’s only 2 years removed from being exchanged from Washington to Colorado for a first round pick, but he’s also coming off of his worst season in the NHL, and he still hasn’t quite proven if he is a cornerstone piece for an NHL team. Nonetheless, if he were to come to Pittsburgh he could make Marc-Andre Fleury expendable, or at least eligible for a contract buyout. Of course, if MAF becomes available, why not trade HIM to the Colorado Avalanche where he would have the opportunity to be the pet project of his childhood hero Patrick Roy (the new coach of the Avs). Of course, if you’re talking about the Penguins trading a franchise goalie and a franchise defenseman then it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to ask for that first overall pick now does it?
Sure, there are dozens of teams that would be interested in Letang if he went to market, but the Avalanche seem like a good fit because the Penguins have the ability to address their biggest needs in a trade with them. To this point we have no idea if Letang is headed to market, if he is though expect that Ray Shero and the rest of the Penguins upper management will reap a healthy bounty in exchange for him.