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How Kris Letang can build his partial NTC to lessen the chance of getting traded

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The Penguins may or may not even get that far in Kris Letang trade discussion, but the player’s contract can make a deal even tougher if he wants to go that route

NHL: MAR 08 Hurricanes at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As of Tuesday, players in the NHL with modified no trade clauses had to update their lists of teams they can block getting traded to without their permission. For the Penguins three players qualify.

Additionally, Pittsburgh has three players with full no trade clauses for 2020-21; with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist fully assured they won’t be traded unless they sign off on it. Hornqvist’s contract stipulates that next off-season his full no trade clause becomes modified to only listing eight teams he cannot be traded to.

This year Pittsburgh’s players with partial no trades:

Jason Zucker

Zucker’s contract allows him to list 10 teams he can’t be traded to. Even though he carries a $5.5 million salary cap hit (with, bonus, only $4.8 million in salary in the 2020-21 season), Zucker has not been mentioned as a trade possibility. The Pens just got him in a trade, and he was everything they could have hoped for as a speedy, productive winger that they have been trying to add to their team for years in various trade talks with Minnesota. Well Pittsburgh finally got him, and they won’t be looking to move on, so he’s going to be safe.

Brandon Tanev

Another spoil of Tanev’s free agent recruitment was the insertion of a clause for a 10-team no trade list throughout his contract. He still has five years remaining at a handsome $3.5 million left per season, so that probably serves as enough of a barrier to be traded. More importantly, much like Zucker, Tanev was a player who brought exactly what the Pens wanted to see out of him and wouldn’t be a trade candidate anyways.

Kris Letang

And now we get to the most interesting partial no trade clause. Letang can block 12 teams and must list 18 teams that he can be traded to. His name has been in the whispers of the national trade rumor mill, though the Pens have said they don’t want to trade a major core player this year, they probably would if the right trade came along.

Granted, it’s unlikely such a trade that would send away an almost 26 minute a night right-handed defender who produces a ton of points and tilts possession in Pittsburgh’s favor could be struck. Letang, 33, is no spring chicken and has a $7.25 million cap hit. It’s tough to imagine a reasonable trade where the Pens can stay within their goal of competing for a title if they trade away their best defenseman.

Letang can make that even more difficult with his no trade list, if he so chooses. We know in the past that Phil Kessel did just that (though Phil had a more restrictive 23-team no trade list) and for Toronto he only listed high-cap Eastern teams that he thought wouldn’t be able to fit him or that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t want to trade him to (like Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, and Montreal). Unfortunately for Kessel in that realm, the Leafs retained 15% of his contract and ate Nick Spaling’s salary to give the Pens the room to acquire him. But it didn’t end up so bad being as Kessel got to help the Pens to two Stanley Cup titles and cement his own legacy as a champion.

If Letang wanted to maximize his no trade clause, which teams should he choose?

Really all Western Conference names. If you look back at the Pens’ recent trade history, almost any time they’ve traded away an NHL caliber player in the last few years (think: Carl Hagelin, Daniel Sprong, Derrick Pouliot, Ryan Reaves, Jamie Oleksiak, Tanner Pearson, Erik Gudbranson, Olli Maatta, Nick Bjugstad and Kessel himself) it’s been standard operating procedure that outgoing NHL talent is guided to Western teams who the Pens don’t play often.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, like Dominik Kahun, Conor Sheary and Derrick Brassard being traded from Pittsburgh to Eastern Conference teams*. Generally speaking though, when Pittsburgh deals an NHL player away it’s a pretty good rule of thumb they’re usually sending him out west.

(*No, I didn’t forget Ian Cole, but the circumstance there was different being as Cole was an impending free agent traded to Ottawa in large reason for salary purposes, with the knowledge that Ottawa was going to flip him again to a contender, which they did.)

With that in mind, if Letang intended to make a trade difficult for Pittsburgh, he should stack his list of “no trade” teams to be all in the Western Conference.

Another mathematical issue in a hypothetical “build a list of places to make it tough to trade me” is that there 15 Western teams right now. That leaves the door open to at least three out-of-conference teams that he could not block. Here he (or his agents) would have filter out teams that would be unlikely to want to add a high-priced right handed defenseman.

Teams like San Jose (who have Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns taking up a huge chunk of the cap with their own various no movement clauses) and Los Angeles (Drew Doughty) and Anaheim (cap crunch and looking to rebuild with youth) all make sense to be left as unblocked teams, since in theory they probably don’t want to trade for him anyways.

The Pens make almost no trades of significance within their own division these days in the salary cap era, and it would be almost unfathomable to think they would deal Letang to a direct rival. Letang has no real need to waste a contractual block on a trade to a place like Washington or Philadelphia, because the Pens wouldn’t be sending him there anyways.

Letang would be somewhat vulnerable to being traded to an Atlantic division team, but that is a risk he will be left open to being as he can only block 12 teams. At some point the math is going to open the door for him to be traded somewhere, which is why he can’t fully, 100% construct a path to not being traded. Only Crosby, Malkin and Hornqvist can have that peace of mind.

Again, that’s if Letang wanted to make a trade tougher. If approached, he could always elect to waive it if the trade would send him to a team or location he might want to relocate to, the power is at least in his court then to make a decision.

Ideally though, the Pens probably aren’t going to shop Letang that much and make the smart call to bring back their star defenseman again. Like Kessel found out in 2015, and again to an extent in 2019, a partial NTC is only as good as the gaps left in it. Letang’s clause leaves a large enough hole where there is a possibility he could not block it. But given league dynamics with how the Pens operate, the player does hold a fair bit of power to pretty much remove most of the teams they typically trade NHL caliber talent to, if he so chooses.

Even then, with a 12-team no trade (plus seven more divisional foes that the Pens don’t or wouldn’t want to work with), Letang essentially is safe from being traded to well over half the league if he structures his no-trade clause properly.