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2023-23 Season In Review: Kris Letang

It did not go exactly as planned for Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins for a variety of reasons.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images


Player: Kris Letang
Born: April 24, 1987 (36 years old)
Height: 6’0
Weight: 201 pounds
Hometown: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Shoots: Right
Draft: Third-round pick 2005 (No. 62 overall)
2022-23 Statistics: 64 games played, 12 goals, 29 assists, 41 total points, minus-13, 30 penalty minutes
Contract Status: Letang just finished the first year of a six-year $36 million contract extension that will run through the end of the 2027-28 season.
Fun fact: This year Letang became just the third player — and first defenseman — to ever play in 1,000 career games with the Penguins, joining longtime core members Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Hidden Stat: Letang scored three game-winning overtime goals for the Penguins during the 2022-23 season.
History: The 2021-22 Season In Review for Kris Letang

Monthly Splits

Letang’s numbers through the first three months were a little rough at times, with just 16 points in his first 29 games and a minus-12 rating through the end of December. It is worth noting that he also missed significant time in the first half due to suffering a second stroke, and then losing his father just before Winter Classic in Boston. As the season went on, his overall numbers improved and he finished the season over the last three months with 21 points over his final 32 games with dramatically better plus-minus numbers.

Story of the Season

It was a rocky negotiation at times with former general manager Ron Hextall, but the Penguins were finally able to get Letang back on a long-term contract extension. Given that Letang had showed no signs of slowing during during the 2021-22 season — and arguably played some of the best hockey of his career — that was a huge move for the 2022-23 roster.

It ended up being an up-and-down performance for Letang in the first year of his new deal.

Health and injury problems slowed him down and limited his availability at times, along with the unexpected loss of his father around mid-season He also badly struggled when he was paired with long-time partner Brian Dumoulin.

Letang has always struggled in his career when paired next to players that do not skate well, and Dumoulin unfortunately entered the portion of his career where his mobility and puck skills have deteriorated.

Letang’s play and production was dramatically different when paired with Dumoulin versus without.

With Dumoulin and Letang together, the Penguins were outscored 21-28 during 5-on-5 play with 51.9 expected goal share.

With Letang paired alongside any other defender the Penguins outscored teams 31-26 with a 56 percent expected goal share.

Regular season 5v5 advanced stats

Data via Natural Stat Trick. The ranking is out of eight defensemen who qualified by playing at least 150 minutes.

Corsi For%: 51.77 (5th)
Goals For%: 49.06 (5th)
xGF%: 53.79 (5th)
Scoring Chance %: 52.44 (5th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 54.62 (3rd)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.51 (4th)
On-ice save%: 92.12 (4th)
Goals/60: 0.20 (4th)
Assist/60: 0.59 (5th)
Points/60: 0.78 (5th)

Statistically speaking this was not one of Letang’s best seasons. The combination of the health, injury and personal issues, the decline of his most consistent and best partner, and perhaps the simple fact that he is just getting older all snowballed into a season that did not go entirely as planned, at least during 5-on-5 play. The fact there is only one category here where he ranks higher than fourth on the team — especially this team with this defense — is certainly eye opening.


One reason for Letang having and uneven and challenging time at 5v5 this year was that the Penguins had a challenging time finding a competent partner to play with him. Brian Dumoulin’s play regressed to the point he got demoted, up stepped Marcus Pettersson. The Pettersson-Letang combo has had pretty advanced numbers over the years but never seemed to mesh or satisfy the coaches long enough to stick around. That changed this year, but then the team realized that pretty much only Letang was capable of coaxing out a decent showing from Dumoulin (or just the only defender strong enough to outright carry him) so they mostly went back to the old familiar Dumoulin-Letang pair down the stretch out of necessity and no other option.

For years now, Kris Letang’s defensive impact has waned. He is, after all, an offensive-minded player. As he ages, eventually he will have to start having his role reduced and optimized — which could prove challenging since he still is (by far) the best defenseman on the team, and it’s difficult for the coaching staff to not lean on what has been a tried and true workhorse of a No. 1 defender for well over a decade now.

Letang remains elite at moving the puck, especially out of the zone. Then when setup, he creates shots and scoring chances in an impressive rate. He is also the best in the biz according to this model at turning and going back to retrieve pucks — indicating that his wheels and skating are still in tremendous form. For a defenseman, Letang also has excellent finishing ability when it comes to shooting the puck.

The bargain of having an elite offensive-minded first line is that they are going to generate a lot of expected goals, but by doing so have to play so wide open that chances are naturally going to be given up as well. Now that Brian Dumoulin is no longer the Brian Dumoulin of 2016-2020, the team could desperately use a quality defensive player to round out the group.

Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby have been working together their entire adult lives, and it shows. No forward in the game looks to go low-to-high and find his defenders in the offensive zone like Sid. Letang is always thinking offense and looking to push the issue and jump up into the play, as you can see from the locations of his 5v5 shots above. Most of his shots come from along the blueline at the point, but he is willing and able to step in and get closer as well.


Letang’s game-winning goal in overtime against the New York Rangers was not only one of his best highlights of the season, but one of the Penguins best highlights of the season.

As was this epic overtime shift against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

There was also another overtime goal, capping off a two-goal night in his return to the lineup. His night.

He also played in his 1,000th NHL game this season.

Bottom Line

I am not ready to give up on Letang as a No. 1 defender just yet. The 2022-23 season was a perfect storm of every possible thing going wrong, and it all simply took its toll. He was so good a year ago, and he is consistently in such great shape, that I am not going to conclude that his play just completely evaporated out of nowhere.

Do we need to accept the fact that his best days might be in the rear view mirror?

Yes. Yes we do.

But that does not mean his days as an elite player are completely finished. He can still skate, he still has the offensive instincts and ability, and he still has the talent.

He needs some better luck, a better partner, and a fresh start with a new season.

Ideal 2023-24

The ideal scenario for Letang next season is better injury and health luck and getting a new partner that can best complement his style of play. Somebody that can keep up with him, move the puck well enough to play alongside of him, and help him get back to the player he was a year ago when he was top-10 in the Norris Trophy voting.

If the Penguins are going to get back to the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup they are going to need him to be that player again.


How would you grade Kris Letang’s 2022-23 Season?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    (52 votes)
  • 60%
    (262 votes)
  • 23%
    (103 votes)
  • 3%
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    (2 votes)
436 votes total Vote Now