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2016-17 Pensburgh Season Review: Kris Letang

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It ended up being a lost season individually for Letang, but against all odds it ended with nothing but smiles

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2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

2016-17 Stats and career progression

Preseason Expectations:

Kris Letang ended the 2015-16 season professionally at the very pinnacle of the sport. He played 71 games in the regular season- setting personal highs in goals, assists and points. Then he ratcheted his game up even further to play 26:56 per game in the playoffs (almost 7 minutes more than any other defensive teammate) becoming one of the biggest driving factors in helping the franchise win a 4th championship that night in San Jose. Letang would finish 4th in Norris voting, and well could have been right back in the hunt for making his case as the league’s best defenseman.

The Fanciest of Stats

Boxcars:

Regular season: 41 games played: 5 goals, 29 assists, 34 points, +2, 32 PIMs, 25:31 Time On Ice per game

Playoffs: did not play after an April neck surgery

5v5 Points/60: 1.13 (1st among top 9 minutes playing defensemen on the team)

Corsi For %: 53.6% (1st among top 9 defensemen)

Goals For %: 50.8% (6th/9)

PDO: 99.1 (6th/9)

5v5 Shots/60: 7.00 (1st/9)

Letang's Season, Game-by-Game (via HockeyViz, explained here):

Letang's 5v5 Teammates and Competition (via HockeyViz, explained here):

Letang's With-or-Without You (via HockeyViz, explained here):

Letang's Goals Against Replacement (GAR) Components (chart by @ChartingHockey, data by @DTMAboutHeart, explained here, Tableau here):

Analysis

Once again, Kris Letang was far and away the Penguins workhorse in 2016-17 up through February when his season ended. He played 1st pair heavy minutes and crushed them. He makes just about everyone on his team better. This is all expected and he pretty much delivers year in and year out.

What you see is great, there’s a solid case to make that when he’s playing, Kris Letang is probably one of the best 5 or so defensemen in the whole league. The issue is...

Season story

Also, unfortunately once again, injuries are the only thing the derail Letang. He missed 5 games in October with an upper body injury. Then in December Letang got knocked out for 7 games with a lower-body injury. Unfortunately soon after returning Letang suffered a knee injury two weeks later and was out for 6 more games in January. He’d be back for 11 games before skating on 2/21 against Carolina and then wouldn’t be back in a jersey again until the Stanley Cup celebration. Letang had suffered cumulative damage to his neck and required a surgery to correct a herniated disc, ending his year in April after he attempted 5-6 weeks of rest and rehab to try and return for the playoffs.

As we said though in April, while a critical blow, it didn’t have to be (and obviously wasn’t) the end of the season

Letang played 41 games this season. In the games that he started, the Pens boasted a record of 25-10-6, had a Goals For differential of 3.49, and a Goals Against differential of 2.85. Without him? Pittsburgh is 24-9-5 in 38 games, with a Goals For differential of 3.34, and a Goals Against differential of 2.97 (lower). If anything, Letang is a bonus to an already loaded Penguins roster.

Interesting Stat: After his two highest scoring seasons in 2014-15 (54) and 2015-16 (67), Letang was on pace for 68 points this season.

And, then there’s this - Letang’s basically in the same area no matter who he plays with (he’s good!) Everyone else, to a man, gets worse in some way

Verdict

It sure wasn’t pretty, and it certainly was less dominant defensively but the team found a way back to the top of the mountain without their best defenseman. Major credit has to go to the goalies for combined excellence, and the skilled forward for cashing in when it counted, but Letang’s absence was dearly felt on the blueline. From Letang’s perspective, it can’t have been a positive season, but the grind of hockey never ends. Letang is expected to be healthy and ready for the start of next season and we’ll do it all over again. Hopefully he can retain some healthy and play a bunch of games and not miss the playoffs again.

Question for the comments

Who’s the best bet for partner for Letang next season? Brian Dumoulin seems to be the steadiest, but would it be worth it to try and boost Olli Maatta up to the role and see if Letang could elevate him, and make a better 2nd pair of Dumoulin - Justin Schultz? Also how will the power play work with two RH shot options of Letang and Schultz on defense?