2013-14 Season in Review: Kris Letang

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We continue our look back at the individual performances in the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins season with the oft injured former Norris finalist, Kris Letang.

Age: 27 (April 24, 1987)

Contract Status: Signed through 2021-22; $7,250,000; Modified No Trade Clause

Buyout Status: Not eligible for compliance buyout

2013-14 Stats

GP

TOI/GP

Goals

Assists

Points

37 (8)

24:14 (2)

11 (1)

11 (4)

22 (3)

Corsi For %

Corsi Rel %

Quality of Comp. (TOI%)

Zone Start %

PDO

48.8% (5)

-1.5% (4)

28.9% (3)

54.0% (1)

97.3% (8)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Pittsburgh Penguins players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top nine defensemen or top 14 forwards.)

Most frequent D partners

Partners

Goals For%

Corsi For%

Total 5v5 time (641:21 for Letang)

Olli Maatta

58.3%

49.9%

221:05

Rob Scuderi

50.0%

43.5%

198:39

Matt Niskanen

42.9%

53.6%

116:55

With all the injuries throughout the season we very seldom got to see a consistent blue line. The preseason ended with the plan of pairing Letang up with Scuderi, but he got hurt and missed the start of the season. When he returned he started out with Scuderi, who soon got hurt as well, and the injury parade continued afterwards with a slew of different partners.

He had a very erratic performance with his different partners. During his time with Niskanen they dominated possession but wound up getting greatly outscored. When he was paired with Maatta they excelled on the scoreboard but barely broke even in possession. And then with Scuderi they were a possession black hole but still managed to come out even on the scoreboard.


The Penguins M*A*S*H Unit

Kris Letang missed the first 9 games of the season due to a knee injury he suffered while the team visited West Point military academy as part of their preseason team building exercises. When he returned to the lineup he was paired with his intended partner Scuderi, but the following game Scuderi went out with a broken ankle. Letang played with a number of different partners over the next 24 games, first partnered with Niskanen and then with Maatta, before going back on IR after having surgery on an infected elbow. When he returned to the lineup he played 10 more games, reunited with the recently returned Scuderi, before going out for the third time in the season.

Then Letang suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, a patent foramen ovale, which is when the hole that connects the left and right atria of the heart in a developing fetus fails to close off completely after birth, thus allowing deoxygenated blood to mix with oxygenated blood as it passes through the circulatory system. There were a lot of rumours floating around, some people felt that he was done for the rest of the year and others worried that he would be hanging up the skates for good. Nearly everybody had a plan for how to replace him at the trade deadline. But after missing 26 games he returned to play the final 3 games of the season, once again paired with Scuderi, before making their playoff push.

Is It Good Enough To Be Just Good?

In a way, Letang's production this year was practically the opposite of his numbers last season. Last year people often complained about Letang's inability to find the back of the net despite his absurd Point totals. This year Letang set a career high in Goals, but his Points were the lowest they had been since his rookie season in 2007-08. A lot of that can be explained by his various injuries limiting the number of games he played this year, but even on a per game basis it was the lowest Points he has had since prior to becoming the de facto #1 D in 2010-11.

Another factor to consider is that just over half of his Goals and Points were scored on the PP, where he frequently played on the top unit and led all other D in PP TOI per game. If we were to look at just his 5-on-5 production, he drops to #4 with 3 Goals and #6 with 7 Points, although per 60 he improves to #2 in Goals and #4 in Points. We even see a similar trend in Point Shares, but his on-ice Goals For per 60 was the worst D on the team.

However, despite a general lack of scoring whilst he was on the ice, he still did a solid job when it came to possession, being the #2 D in individual Shots and shot attempts per 60 as well as #3 in on-ice Shots For and Fenwick For per 60. He also managed to be #2 in both Shot Shares and Fenwick Shares, proving that he wasn't just a passenger leeching off his linemates but was actually an integral part of the team's ability to control the flow of play.

Defensively he still leaves something to be desired, as he had a habit of bleeding Shots Against, with less than desirable Goals Against, and a team D leading number of Giveaways. Letang's game has always been predicated upon high risk, high reward play, so his lackluster defensive zone play isn't usually a cause for concern as he normally more than makes up for it with his stellar offensive zone play. This year, however, he came up short and wound up giving up more goals than he produced.

GIF of the Year


We often hear about Letang's lax defensive play or his boneheaded mistakes, but we have to give him credit for some of the spectacular plays he does make. He kicked it up to a whole new level come playoff time and was arguably the best defenseman on the ice, particularly during the New York Rangers series. If we could get Letang to play like that every night he would be well on his way to being one of the best all-around D in the entire league.

Preseason expectations

Last year Letang was an All-Star and a Norris finalist who scored over a Point per Game and earned himself an 8-year contract extension that makes him the 3rd highest paid D in the league starting July 1st. And it wasn't as if he just had a career year, he had been progressively improving the previous two seasons, surpassing his career average in both Goals and Points while earning a handful of All-Star and Norris votes. So to say expectations were high going into this season would be an understatement.

Verdict

He hoped he would stay healthy, but didn't have high hopes of that considering his track record over the previous two seasons. Nobody could have anticipated he have a stroke and an undiagnosed heart condition, but even so he missed far more games than we could have imagined. What's more, while he still put up impressive numbers as one of the top scoring D on the team, it paled in comparison to the lofty expectations we had after watching him improve over the past 3 seasons. If he were just an average D it would have been quite a solid performance, but we have come to expect more from Letang.

In the end, we are getting ready to pay over $7M to a player that hasn't stayed healthy enough to play a full season since he was 23. And while some consideration has to be taken for his injuries and the inconsistencies in the roster due to having a league leading Man Games Lost, he still ended up performing below his level. When you are paid like one of the top 3 D in the league, is good really good enough? I don't advocate trading him, but his new contract and NTC kicks in on July 1st. We shouldn't be actively shopping him, but it wouldn't hurt to keep an ear open for offers.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Kris Letang’s season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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