Riding the Trade Letang Train, Redux

Waiting for the other shoe to fall. That’s where Penguins fans (and probably many of the players as well) are stuck, still, even weeks after the team’s acrimonious fall from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

tanger-stare

There is an anticipation of change, but the two easiest scapegoats: Marc-Andre Fleury and Head Coach Dan Bylsma have both been saved for next season by reassurances from General Manager Ray Shero. With Evgeni Malkin set to sign an 8-year contract extension, complete with a full no-movement clause the masses have congregated around one last sacrificial offering: Kris Letang. But they’re right, because the Penguins biggest responsibility this offseason is to get smarter.

Allow me to break the fourth wall, last week I wrote a piece on why the Penguins should trade Kris Letang and to which team they should trade him to in order to address their existing organizational needs. I don’t point this out to draw traffic to my blog, it is only to express that there is more than one way that the Penguins can improve their team by distancing themselves from Kris Letang.

The Concept of Hockey IQ

It’s a cliche to say that you have to be “smart” to succeed at the highest level of sport. It’s also an inaccuracy (see Aaron Hernandez for an example or any of the other 26 NFL players who have been arrested in the last four months). What all athletes need to possess is the ability to make decisions faster than their competitor and most importantly, to make the RIGHT decision. What it all means is that you don’t have to “outsmart” you have to “outquick” your opponent, the player needs to anticipate his options and make the best decision available to him.

With that said, you should be able to start to see that Kris Letang is not a player that this author or many others would categorize as particularly strong in hockey IQ. He’s prone to mental mistakes: he pinches at the wrong time, he doesn’t react to turnovers with any particular swiftness, and he often gets burned on his positioning.

Telestrating Hocey IQ

Take for example this goal from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals:

LetangTelestrator1

Letang is the lone black jersey at the top of the screen. Although he starts off in good position he somehow reads that he should close on the puck carrier Horton despite the fact that Lucic has clearly made the play into a 2-on-1 and Letang has no defense partner in position to cover Lucic (let alone Krejci, who Murray planned to cover).

LetangTelestrator2

LetangTelestrator3

Although Letang did manage to get a piece of Horton he quickly abandoned his check (for completely inexplicable reasons) to pursue Lucic. Although Douglas Murray’s foot speed is a major issue on this play, he seemingly correctly deduced to go to the greatest threat, which was Lucic. For the first time all play Letang seems to notice Murray’s existence and turns off from pursuing Lucic. As if it couldn’t be worse Letang takes a lazy, circuitous path back to the actual puck carrier, but the damage was done and Horton and Krejci stood in front of the net with only Jarome Iginla to provide any defense at all.

LetangTelestrator4

That is a play not becoming of a number one, franchise marquee defenseman seeking a new contract that is rumored to pay him $7 million per season. Especially on a team that is predicated on smart, quick transition hockey.

Getting Smarter

Kris Letang is not the only player who lacks the decision making needed to improve this Penguins team. Think about how the Penguins magically lost the ability to crash the net against Boston: you can blame coaching but it is not a coaching point to convince players to get to the net (at least not after Peewees). It’s about possessing a hockey sense, finding soft areas in the opponents defense and capitalizing on that. Although Letang is not the only player at fault in this, he is the only player that can be moved and fetch the kind of return that the Penguins need in order to make an organizational effort to be brighter.

In the salary cap era the Penguins have to move from a position of depth (puck moving defensemen) to fix their problems. What better than to trade their biggest pawn and receive a king’s ransom of an established stay at home defenseman and young prospects that can be molded and educated into the Penguins system.

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