Riding the Trade Letang Train

tanger-stare

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.

434px-Erik_Johnson

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.

For some other detailed analyses by people who are smarter than me check out Mike Colligan: Part 1 and Part 2. And Andrew Rothey at faceoff-factor.com.

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A Modest Proposal, Part 1

Heyo. So the NHLPA Collective Bargaining agreement is up this off-season. There has been a lot of protest over a lot of different things after the last one was signed – points per win, yay/nay on the shootout, divisions and their relations, etc. So we’re coming before the people to submit, humbly, a new plan that will hopefully address all of these concerns. Check out the first in the series after the jump…

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The (Drop) Deadline

The Pens had a great weekend, they should have won by a total of 14-3, but even then, 12-3 isn’t too shabby either. They beat up a couple of teams that they needed to beat up. Good times. But now we’re moving onto the trade deadline, which in many years is incredibly exciting. This year, it just doesn’t seem like a whole lot is going to happen, and even less than that with the Penguins. Nonetheless, let’s examine what the Pens may do at the deadline this year, and what they need to do.

In terms of “need,” my answer is honestly “nothing.” There are several reasons for this.

What do the Pens need?

The needs of the Pens are few and far between. Again here I would say that they don’t “need” any position, not to the extent that they have “needed” players in the past at the deadline. However, it is fair of people to look at scoring forwards, physical defensemen, and maybe even a back up goalie (now that Johnny got injured in practice a few days ago). I will do that in time, but I still want to examine other conditions first.

The Market

The biggest deal so far this deadline has definitely been the Kings sending Jack Johnson to the Blue Jackets for Jeff Carter. Johnson is very much in the vain of Brooks Orpik, big guy, big hitter, good locker room presence, and overall a solid human. Jeff Carter is not those things. To be fair he is a centerman, but beyond that there have been rumors that he was sleeping with the spouse of a teammate in Philadelphia, that he got traded because he was a poor leader in Philadelphia, and while in Columbus he possibly milked his injuries so that he wouldn’t have to play for a bad team. If that’s the going rate to get a “top” offensive player, please count me out.

Better from Within

Here’s a thought, the Penguins have Sidney Crosby on their roster. There is quite literally nothing that any team can do that would make their team better than for the Penguins to get a healthy Sidney Crosby back.

That said, I don’t want the Penguins to put Crosby on Long Term Injured Reserve. This would make him ineligible for the rest of the regular season. The dilemma is that the extent to which the Penguins can make trade deadline moves is directly tied into the ability to redistribute Crosby’s remaining salary for this year.

Who would you really rather have on your team, Derek Roy or Sidney Crosby?

If you want Crosby for the playoffs, you have to let him get healthy and try to get in a few games before the end of the regular season. The pace of the playoffs is on yet another level still from the regular season, and if Crosby can come back at all, you have to see him play again in the regular season again, just to make sure that he is all the way back.

If he can’t, all bets are off. But still you might as well wait and see. I’ve asked it before, but could you really see the Pens, even as good as they’ve been this season, win the cup without Sidney Crosby? To me it would be like the Pens of the 90s winning without Lemieux. If Crosby isn’t there, I almost don’t want the Pens to win the Cup, and that is just my opinion, but I also think a lot of people would agree with me.

Forwards

The ideal player I would have liked to see the Penguins pursue would have been Tuomo Ruutu. Of course, unfortunately last week he signed a new contract extension with the Carolina Hurricanes, and thus he isn’t going anywhere. Ruutu would have been a great fit in Pittsburgh – the most succinct way to describe him is that he is the Finnish Chris Kunitz – a proven scorer but a guy who plays with an edge and is just as effective running down the puck as he is at burying improbable feeds. I don’t think that it is a conincidence that Chris Kunitz has spent the last three seasons playing with the League’s best player (Crosby in 09-10, through the first half of 10-11, and now Geno this year). Just imagine if both Sid and Geno had the same opportunity. But, again, he’s not moving this year so c’est la vie.

There are a couple of Colorado Avalanche players that would be wonderful additions to the Penguins. Namely Milan Hejduk and David Jones. Both are good scorers, Hejduk is a great veteran presence ala Billy G from a few years ago. David Jones is much younger, and probably a player who has yet to fully recognize his potential. Both are bonafide goal scorers, they would fit a little better with Sidney Crosby than Jordan Staal, although, they would still only bolster a second line led by Staal. The trouble with this is that the Avalanche are only 2 points out of the playoffs in the West. I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t move either. Further, the acquisition cost could be pretty high for either of these pending UFAs.

If the Pens were to move someone for either of those guys it might have to be someone like Matt Niskanen, and I’m not sure that the Pens want to pay that.

Which does raise another question for me. Nobody has really mentioned the possibility of Niskanen getting traded. In reality he is a pending RFA, and one still has to assume that he was never really viewed as a long-term investment for the Pens. Between Despres, Strait, Morrow, and Harrington all waiting in the wings (among others) it seems like Niskanen could be an expendable piece who will be due a significant raise next year, for what its worth.

Defense

If the Pens add on defense it will have to be a physical defenseman. Outside of Brooks Orpik, the Pens don’t have a lot of really big thumpers on defense. Kris Letang can choose to be a big hitter, but he is a better skater and he often plays on the same line as Orpik, thus you need to spread around that wealth. But after that, at least in terms of the defense, they aren’t big hitters.

The problem with this deadline, and probably most deadlines if you really think about it, is that most defenseman that are available are offensive guys. The Pens don’t need this, if Letang had been healthy all year he would likely be running away with the Norris, and Matt Niskanen is having a career year, plus all of the guys I mentioned above, Despres, Strait, Morrow, and Harrington are all good 2-way players.

The most notable player the Pens could look at here would be Bryan Allen from the Carolina Hurricanes. A very big body, a good hitter, and a fairly reliable presence in his own end. Of course in the last hour Bob McKenzie has announced that the Canes are no longer interested in trading Allen, so that could be another dead end for the Pens.

Here you would likely see an offensive player moving. The way I have interpreted things over the last few games is this: the Penguins have recalled and played Eric Tangradi in the last few games, this could be an attempt to “showcase” what he is capable of in the NHL to make him a desirable trade figure. The Pens have also been sitting Dustin Jeffrey, largely considered the best prospect in the Penguins organization, over the past few years. This could also signal a trade, in this case the Pens have removed a guy who might not be around much longer. Only time will tell, and that is quickly running out.

Goaltending

If the Pens don’t land Josh Harding to back-up Marc-Andre Fleury, there is quite literally no point in doing anything at this position. Further, it seems like if Harding moves at all, it will be to a team that is looking for a starting goalie. Brad Thiessen picked up his first NHL win yesterday, and even if Brent Johnson cannot come back this season, or can not get his game figured out, I’m not too worried about it, looking at Thiessen’s play yesterday, the Pens will be alright at this position.