Almost six months ago, while off to a slow start, we had to write an article titled, “The Penguins won’t get better by trading Kris Letang” to point out how it would be a short-sighted decision that would negatively impact that team.
So can I just hit the contrl c+ contrl v and call it a day? (sigh)
OK, so the latest: from Josh Yohe at The Athletic.
“Let me put it this way,” Rutherford said of Letang, who has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, which has four years remaining at $7.25 million per year. “He’s not a guy that I’m actively trying to trade from our team. He’s been a great player for a long time and I think he’ll continue to be so. But, I can’t sit here and project an offer that some team could come along and make. I can’t project the future.”
In other words, Rutherford is perfectly content to keep Letang as the Penguins’ No. 1 defenseman. The general manager believes his play will improve next season now that he’s more than one year removed from neck surgery.
However, he will listen to offers, even if on a casual basis.
“I’m trying to explain this as best I can,” Rutherford said. “I’m not actively moving him. I don’t think he’ll be going anywhere. I would expect him to be on our team next season.”
In a sense, Rutherford’s words are fine at face value. 99% of players on all teams probably truly aren’t “untouchable”, if the right offer came along they are going to be on the move. Other than transcendent players who have significant marketing/merchandising/star power, pretty much everyone has a price (i.e. everyone but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for this team).
However, as the general manager hints, it’s unlikely anyone around the league will match the price the Penguins need to get back for their #1 defenseman. Also, Letang can list 13 teams he can’t be traded to. Like we pointed out with those quick to try and trade off Phil Kessel, limited teams always means limited return and that intricacy always seems to avoid the fans/media that speculate on potential trades.
Now, this isn’t to say all is rosy with Kris Letang. He did not perform well in 2017-18. There’s no excuses that need to be made, he struggled mightily at times and made several high profile mistakes that ended up in his own net because of his poor decisions and play. He’s admitted as much on breakdown day last week. From the Pens website:
“I thought I was going to be fine and I thought I was going to get over the hump in the first few weeks of the season,” he said. “It didn’t happen that way, it took a little bit more time. At the end of the day it is what it is, I have to be better.”
The hardest part was handling the schedule after not skating a lot during the summer. Letang has always been an incredible athlete, gifted with the ability to effortlessly handle a huge workload. But this year, Letang said his conditioning was not where he hoped it would be.
”It’s your body that gets tired with, say, back-to-back games,” Letang said. “The second game, I felt like I was not as sharp. It was disorienting the first half, it was one good game, one bad game and it was tough to build because you always remember the bad game.”
Letang also took responsibility for mistakes made in the series against the Capitals. So it’s not like he’s under any illusions that he played well.
Even then, it was a down season for Pens goaltending, if they can bail their defense out with big saves, that always helps.
Plus it wasn’t all bad for Letang; he finished t-17th among all defensemen in the league with 51 points. And 6th among dmen in shots on goal with 222 (despite many fans carrying a narrative he can’t and/or doesn’t shoot enough). Letang also ranked 9th among NHL defensemen in total ice time at 25:20 per game, which why is the team playing a guy coming off neck injuries that much in the first place? But I digress..
The Penguins want to compete for a Stanley Cup next season. There’s no realistic way they will find a trade to better their chances at that goal by trading Letang right now. With his partial no-trade list plus age plus injury history, Pittsburgh simply isn’t going to get the trade value from the market to replace what they would be giving up. In other words, it would be a step back.
There’s no doubt the Pens could use a more consistent performance out of their #1 defenseman to better their odds, but that seems a much better bet to make than engage in a trade with limited partners and attempt to replace a 25 minute a night #1 right-handed defenseman.