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The Penguins won’t get better by trading Kris Letang

The defenseman’s name is in trade rumors, but shouldn’t be

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Some rumors are best ignored, but some become large enough to be better analyzed and debunked. From Elliotte Friedman’s latest:

One very intriguing name has surfaced out of Pittsburgh: Kris Letang, who won’t play Wednesday against Columbus and is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Letang’s got four years left at $7.25 million. The theory is that the Penguins need to free up cap space, and they did win without him last season. The other thing to remember is that GM Jim Rutherford is fearless, unafraid to make an informed gamble.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Letang, who selflessly took ownership for a critical mistake in Pittsburgh’s final pre-Christmas game, a 4-0 home loss to Anaheim, but there is not a ton of concern about his ability.

He’s good, and everyone knows it. What makes this tricky is his health history — which includes a stroke and concussions, among other injuries. Letang’s seen several doctors/specialists outside the Penguins’ prism, so you’d have to assume any interested opponent would want access to that information. Therefore, the big question is going to be: Is this too complex for an in-season deal?

4. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of Montreal conjecture after Letang’s name was reported.

I could see a trade match and do believe the Canadiens are on his list of clubs he can go to. Adding him means they would have almost $27 million per season tied up in Karl Alzner, Letang, Jeff Petry and Shea Weber for the next three seasons (barring other moves). Petry’s contract would be the first to expire, in July 2021. That’s a lot of financial concentration on the blue line.

5. I always wonder about Detroit whenever a top defender is available

Kris Letang has had a rough go in the 2017-18 season. He’s been on the ice for 14 goals for and 38 goals against, and as we were quick to point out earlier in the week he’s not blameless for such a development.

However, if the Penguins are trying to improve, trading their best defenseman isn’t likely to be the way to do so.

Letang is the Pens leader in Corsi, Relative Corsi, ice-time, assists and probably any other meaningful category. He’s turned the puck over too much, but is also 8 months removed from a major neck surgery and trying to adjust his game to take less abuse and be more available. There isn’t much room for grace on the internet when discussing sports, but for the first half of the regular season it can be acknowledged.

The Penguins also have a 3.8% shooting percentage this season when Letang is on the ice. This is really unfortunate and almost entirely a spell of bad luck that will change. To trade a franchise defenseman in the middle of a bad luck spell offensively and some defensive struggles is really foolish and begging to downgrade the team in talent and skill. It would be a very short-sighted move to make, independent of the return (unless Ottawa wanted to move on from Erik Karlsson..)

Back on topic, there’s another reason Friedman hits on about why trading Letang is a bad idea for the Penguins, particularly in-season. It’s the contract, but a little more than Elliotte mentioned. Here’s a snapshot from the awesome cap friendly:

Check that line at the bottom- 18 teams he can be traded to means 13 teams he cannot be traded to. It’s not quite as restrictive of the Phil Kessel 25 team list, but the point is about the same: a no-trade clause decreases the number of options to trade a player, and that decreases the value in a trade a team can get for that player.

And Friedman notes that an “intriguing name has surfaced out of Pittsburgh” when really, buzz about this started in earnest, near as I can tell, from a Canadian national broadcast during a Saturday night game by Nick Kypreos. It’s parsing, but it’s not from Pittsburgh where Letang’s name has popped up, it was Canada.

In fact, the Pittsburgh writers, namely Jason Mackey, reported earlier that the Pens haven’t started the process outwardly

Nick Kypreos floated on “Hockey Night in Canada” that the Penguins were shopping Kris Letang.

Can’t say for sure they’re not, but I’ve been told that nobody in Letang’s camp was aware of it happening, if Kypreos is correct.

Hard to imagine the Penguins would be shopping Letang, a franchise pillar with a no-movement clause, without at least outlining their intentions first.

What Mackey says makes sense and if Letang’s camp isn’t aware of anything impending, that’s probably a good sign no trade talk is very serious at the moment. Teams and agents share a lot of information and a major move like this would be generating some serious buzz.

In all, for now this seems pretty Canadian driven talk. The Penguins would want Letang to play better, sure, but this has got to be about as low as it gets for his on ice shooting + save percentage. Trading a key asset at rock bottom isn’t very smart.

Jim Rutherford surely wants to take a big swing and try to help Pittsburgh get better, but trading Kris Letang isn’t and won’t be the way to to it. (You know, unless Erik Karlsson could be had, he said somewhat tongue in cheek but not really).