Comparing Kris Letang and his new contract league-wide

Kris Letang's new contract draws an immediate reaction from fans: how much?  $3.5 million for four years.

OK, so now, how does that match up against other guys around the league?  Did the Penguins get ripped off?  Did Letang take a little less than his market value?

After the jump, let's look at comparable young defensemen's contracts around the league.

First, Kris:


 

Kris Letang -- 4 years $3.5 million per season

#58 / Defenseman / Pittsburgh Penguins

6-0

201

Apr 24, 1987

Age at contract extension: 22 (23 next month)

Career before contract: 211 games played, 21 goals, 58 assists, 79 points, 98 PIMs, -7

Playoff stats before contract: 39 gp, 4g, 11a, 15p, +6


Letang burst on the scene in 2006-07, making the Penguins out of training camp.  They only kept him seven games before sending him back to juniors for the season, but it was obvious by then the 3rd round pick in 2005 was a special player.  Most thought Letang should have made the NHL the following season, but he was assigned to the AHL.  He'd only stay 10 games before getting called up to stay in the fall of 2007.  Since then he's racked up a ton of games at an early age.

Skating is Letang's forte, his offensive game hasn't found it's full stride, but he's improved drastically in the defensive zone.  While not a big player, Letang will throw his weight around and is effective in the corners.  He's an excellent puck mover who can make a great first pass.

Where he needs to improve:  offensive production, continued consistent defensive plays like always making the right decision in his own zone.

 


 

Ryan Suter -- 4 years, $3.5 million per season

#20 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators

6-1

194

Jan 21, 1985

Age at contract extension: 23

Career before contract: 229 games played, 16 goals, 55 assists, 71 points, 191 PIM, +20

Playoff stats before contract: 11 gp, 2g, 1a, 3p, -2, 12 PIM

Career after contract: 159 gp, 10g, 69a, 79p, -14, 119 PIM

Playoff stats since contract: N/A


Suter's increased his assist and points but seen his +/- go down since he signed the same money as Letang did a two years earlier.  Don't read too much into those numbers, Suter's been a mainstay on Nashville's defense (playing 24:00 a night this season, most on the team) and was a key contributor for Team USA in the Olympics.

Suter represents everything the Penguins hope Letang will become: you give a young guy with a ton of games under his belt this type of money and watch him become one of your team's most important players.  Suter will be a deal for the next two years and then he becomes an unrestricted free agent (if not extended again, of course), so it works out great for the player too.


 

Tobias Enstrom -- 4 years for $3.75 million

#39 / Defenseman / Atlanta Thrashers

5-10

180

Nov 05, 1984

Age at contract extension: 23

Career before contract: 82 games played, 5 goals, 33 assists, 38 points, 42 PIM, -5

Playoff stats before contract: none

Career after contract: 158 gp, 11g, 70a, 81p, +13, 80 PIM

Playoff stats since contract: none


Enstrom got his boost after just one NHL season (though he had five seasons in the Swedish leagues) and he's continued to be solid ever since.  Post-contract Enstrom's scored .51 points/game (Letang is at .40 p/g this year).  Enstrom, like Letang, is a smaller puck moving defensemen who's probably a little slicker in the offensive zone than his Penguin counter-part.  With Ilya Kovalchuk gone, Enstrom has to lead the Atlanta power play.

One thing Enstrom doesn't do is kill penalties (0:26 per game this season), whereas Letang is already at 1:13 a night this season and only figures to grow.  Enstrom is a smoother playmaker, especially inside of the zone and that leads to assists.  Assists pad points and points get paycheck.

It's not unrealistic to think that towards the end of his contract Letang could be putting up close to Enstrom's point/assist totals, score more goals (Enstrom's career high is 6; Letang's already scored 10) and Letang should be able to play more and better in the defensive zone.


 

Dennis Wideman 4 years for $3.875 million

#6 / Defenseman / Boston Bruins

6-0

196

Mar 20, 1983

Age at contract extension: 25

Career before contract: 223 games played, 27 goals, 58 assists, 85 points, 224 PIM, -30

Playoff stats before contract: 6 gp, 0g, 3a, 3p, -2, 0 PIM

Career after contract: 148 gp, 17g, 58a, 75p, +16, 64 PIM

Playoff stats since contract: 11 gp, 0g, 7a, 7p, +3, 4 PIM

 


The master breaking sticks, Wideman had a 50 point season last year but has had difficult season this year.  Wideman's still playing 23+ minutes a night in all situations and carrying his weight.  If you look, his career numbers prior to his extension are about equal to Letang -- save post-season play, which Letang has more of.  A lot of these defensemen are getting a boost in their next couple of seasons in points, it'll remain to be seen if Letang can repeat that, but it's a trend we're discovering.

 


 

Alexander Edler  4 years at $3.25 million

#23 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks

6-3

220

Apr 21, 1986

Age at contract extension: 23

Career before contract: 177 games played, 19 goals, 41 assists, 60 points, 102 PIM, +20

Playoff stats before contract: 13 gp, 1g, 7a, 8p, -2, 6 PIM

Career after contract: 69 gp, 4g, 32a, 36p, even, 36 PIM

Playoff stats since contract: none


Edler follows the trend: a young defensemen drafted fairly deep (91st overall in 2004) that made it quickly to the NHL.  The contract has worked great for Vancouver, Edler's almost matched his career numbers in assists this season alone and is playing 22:21 a night (3:05 on the PP).  He's up to 2 minutes a night short-handed and starting to pitch in there too.  Letang's got 60 combined more games than Edler at the time of their extensions and he's

 


 

Marc-Edouard Vlasic 4 years at $3.1 million

#44 / Defenseman / San Jose Sharks

6-1

200

Mar 30, 1987

Age at contract extension: 22

Career before contract: 245 games played, 11 goals, 65 assists, 76 points, 84 PIM, +16

Playoff stats before contract: 30 gp, 0g, 3a, 3p, -3, 2PIM

Career after contract: 59 gp, 3g, 11a, 14p, +18, 19 PIM

Playoff stats since contract: none


Vlasic is perhaps the best comparable to Letang: they were drafted in the same year (Vlasic 27 spots higher in 2005), they're the about same age (Letang 1 month younger), both similiar sizes and skating abilities. Vlasic stuck in San Jose from 2006 the year that Letang almost made it and has been an NHL mainstay ever since.

Both Letang and Vlasic have similiar pre-contract numbers, with Letang being far more accomplished in the playoffs.  Vlasic has morphed into more of a defensive role with 3:00 of SH time this season compared to only 1:45 on the PP and his numbers have dipped a little.  Still, he's a capable young defenseman.  Letang's contract is marginally better, but considering he's a year older and figures to put up better production over the course of the deal.  Whether Letang can match Vlasic's play without the puck is something to watch and strive for.

Verdict:  Letang's rate and years seems to fit in about perfectly.  Suter's deal is perhaps the best of the bunch, he's the best all-around and most polished, but all of them have upside, and the potential to do more is what always fuels young defensemen's contracts.  Also consider Letang's shootout ability: he's got 4 gimmick goals this season, of the above named defensemen they have only 1 combined attempt this season (Vlasic, and he failed).  That's an important special skill that adds more value for the Penguins, especially with tight races where the difference between a shootout win and loss or two could be the difference in winning the division and getting a higher seed in the playoffs any given season.

That said, $3.5 million for Letang won't be seen as a steal, but given the rates of his peers it's not as if Ray Shero is going to look at this one and think he got ripped off (assuming everything goes as forecasted).

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