Before I get into my point, I want to make a public disclaimer: I am not necessarily on the “trade Letang” bandwagon. So if you tweet at me claiming I am stupid for wanting to get rid of Letang, I will not respond because it is clear you only read the title.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, is trading Letang something that could benefit the Penguins in the long run instead of just being a short term fix?
It’s hard to imagine a team without Kris Letang on it. He has been one of the key cogs of a core that has seemingly been together for the last ten years. But after back-to-back Stanley Cups, general manager Jim Rutherfordis looking for a shake-up to a team that is lacking that juice and burst that has been evident since the 2015-16′ season.
Letang was placed on injured reserve Thursday and will miss Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. The injury is retroactive to 12/24 so he can come off of injured reserve Sunday against Detroit if he is ready. The Penguins likely placed him there to have an extra body on the roster for Friday.
Both Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman have reported that Rutherford has indeed “tested the waters” on a potential Letang trade and has gathered intel on what his market could be in such a situation.
Of course, while being on IR, Letang can not be moved. He’s had a bevy of health issues like neck surgery and a stroke among others. Teams likely would want to do some extensive searching on his health before paying the hefty cost for a defenseman of his caliber.
Could the Penguins benefit?
That question will seemingly be tough to answer. The return could likely net the Penguins a couple solid forwards to help fill out some depth issues currently presented by the team. The forward depth possessed over their last two title runs was the big reason they repeated as champions.
Defensively is where the team would be questionable. While Letang hasn’t played defense well at all this season, he still puts up a lot of points on the offensive end. Outside ofJustin Schultz and occasionally Olli Maatta, the Penguins don’t have a ton of offensive presence.
Schultz has proven far beyond capable that he can run the top powerplay as he has been assigned that duty at times due to Letang’s struggles. Schultz’s $5.5 million AAV is very mid-range for a defenseman of his caliber. If he becomes the lead guy on the blue line, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. But he has had some rotten injury luck in his Penguins tenure. The team sorely misses him now and the current blueline is what things would look like if Letang was moved and Schultz was injured. It’s ugly.
Maatta is still only 23. He’s been the Penguins steadiest defenseman all year long. While he won’t account for a ton of offensive points, he can put the puck in the net as he scored 10 goals in his rookie season before injuries derailed the next few years of his career. To think he’s 23 is crazy and his game seems to be only evolving and likely will continue to for another 3-4 years before he hits his maximum.
Outside of that, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Jamie Oleksiak, Chad Ruhwedel, and Matt Hunwick are the rest of the depth chart. If Letang is moved and everyone stays healthy, those are likely your seven NHL defensemen. It’s not a terrible core but with every injury, it looks worse and worse.
The Penguins need forward help. Moving Letang would get that. The Penguins have gotten decent contribution from Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong still awaits in the wings. Outside of that, they will continue to plug guys like Ryan Reaves into the lineup to the dismay of many.
The Penguins have also made it clear they’d like to trade Cole and if they are to move Letang and Cole, they would absolutely need a defenseman back to supplant that spot.
Letang would be a great get for any team because absolutely no one doubts his skill. But the reality is that the Penguins are a cap strapped team year in and year out so moving a $7.25 AAV contract that will have four more years remaining on it would be a nice bit of relief for the Penguins.
If they play their cards right, the Penguins could afford to move Letang if they so desire.