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2015-16 Pensburgh Recap: Kris Letang

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An (almost) Norris trophy caliber season for the Penguins best defenseman

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Age and Contract Status

Age: 29 (DOB: April 24, 1987). Letang is under contract with the Penguins for six more years at $7.25 million cap hit per season, which lasts until after the 2021-2022 season, meaning Pittsburgh has him locked up for his age 29-35 seasons in what should be the most productive playing years in his career. Has the 5th highest cap hit league-wide among defensemen for 2016-17 (which will drop to at least 7th in 2017-18 once the extensions for Aaron Ekblad and Victor Hedman kick in and surpass Letang). So, over time the long-term investment Pittsburgh's made in Letang appears to be a very good one.

Preseason Expectations

Letang was knocked out of the 2014-15 season when a hit from Shane Doan concussed and sent the Pens star defenseman to the hospital. The season prior, Letang suffered a stroke, among other maladies, leading many to rightfully question if he could stay healthy enough to impact games. Letang's proven to be all-star caliber at minimum, and a Norris trophy candidate at best, but as always health worries linger.

2015-16 Stats

Regular season: 71 games played, 16 goals, 51 assists, 67 points, 66 penalty minutes

Playoffs: 23 gp, 3g + 12a, 15p, 22 PIMs

Verdict

Letang ended up having the season of a lifetime and lifting the Stanley Cup. However, casting an eye back to the beginning of the season it's worth pointing out that Letang struggled as much as anyone in the Mike Johnston segment of the season.

Letang only scored 4 points in 11 October games and a goal-less November where we recapped his month sayingg, "Letang isn't playing great hockey great now, but he's lugging around Ian Cole and Rob Scuderi, so it's tough to expect more." . The teammate thing would be a big deal, Cole was horribly mis-cast as a top pairing defenseman (and fared terribly) then the team turned to a Scuderi/Letang pairing that obviously did Letang no favors.

December saw the lone major injury of Letang's season, he missed most the month (9th-26th) with an upper-body injury, when he returned the coaching change was made and the team, and their best defenseman, were ready to kick it into high gear.

Letang had a great January (3g+11a for 14 points in 10 games) followed by arguably the best month of his career in February with 5g+10a, 15 points (13 of them at ES) in 13 games. March continued the roll with 13 points in 16 games and a ridiculous 54 shots on goal in 16 games from his point position.

Kris kept chugging in the playoffs, scoring 5 points in as many games in the rout of the Rangers, adding 3 assists (and a 1-game suspension) against the Capitals, an important goal in a must-win Game 6 vs. the Lightning and finishing the year off with 5 points against San Jose, including factoring into every GWG, most notably the goal that ended up winning the Cup.

All those points went along with an immense workload. Letang played 26:56 per game in the regular season (6+ more than any other defenseman on the team). In the playoffs that upticked to an unreal 28:52 per game, 7+ minutes more than the next healthy defenseman. Letang played more per game in the playoffs than any player in the league who made it out of the first round of the playoffs. To say he was the Pens ironman would be an understatement.

Future

Things are looking up for Letang, who finished 4th in Norriis voting, and finds himself surrounded by 3 other legitimate partner options in Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and Trevor Daley. Mike Sullivan's system fits Letang's strengths and has worked out wonderfully. Compared to where he is now going into 2016-17, compared with coming off the major injury for 2015-16, things look a lot sunnier.

Letang ought to be in the Norris conversation if he can stay healthy again, because he'll be piling up the minutes and probably points to keep powering the Penguins.

Letang's HERO Chart

(From Own The Puck)

2015-16 Game-by-Game Analysis

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

letang71716

As mentioned above and as the chart spells out, Letang had 5 different changes of partners over the course of the season from Cole to Maatta to Scuderi to Maatta to Daley. And he also finished the season playing with Dumoulin.

Distribution of Teammates and Competition

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

letang717162

Unreal stuff here for Letang, who just crushed it as, by far, the Penguins most heavily relied upon defenseman.

GIFs of the Year

We start at the end, the goal that would stand up as the Cup winner from a nice pass from Sidney Crosby that Letang quickly got on net.

letang cup goal

Scoring in G6 against Tampa to give the Pens a 2-0 lead

The interference penalty on Marcus Johansson in Game 3, Letang would be suspended for the following game.

In the Cup Final, Letang made a beautiful move and pass to get the puck to Conor Sheary for his OT GWG.

Back in the last week of the regular season, Letang made a sweet long pass to Crosby for a breakaway winner against the Caps.

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Feel free to vote in the poll below to rate Kris Letang's season. Vote based on your expectations coming into the season, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.