While the Pittsburgh Penguins are not actively shopping him – and his skills remain an asset to the team in the long run – could defenseman Kris Letang be on the chopping block?
Given a gigantic 7-year, $58 million contract in the offseason, Letang has been anything but the Norris Trophy finalist he was last season.
Now, of course, injuries have stalled his progress a tad, and he has been picking it up recently. However, overall, Letang hasn’t performed like a $58 million-dollar blueliner in the slightest.
Knowing the team has outstanding depth at the blue-line, and witnessing what the future holds for their plethora of defensive prospects, Letang’s name could most certainly surface around the trade deadline. Not to mention, the team would probably like to clear some salary off their payroll, considering they’re flirting with the max-cap allowed.
Letang’s new lucrative deal doesn’t bode well in terms of flexibility for future moves. Although he’s a tremendous player, and I view him as a top-5 defensemen in terms of talent, there’s a package out there waiting to be delivered in exchange for his services.
Fans didn’t expect the organization would actually trade forward Jordan Staal, but he was. Labeled as part of the core-four for Pittsburgh – a group that included: Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Staal – general manager Ray Shero didn’t shy away from pulling the trigger because he knew it was best for the team.
A deal that saw him acquire current center Brandon Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin, and the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft – which was used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who’s widely regarded as a future star on Pittsburgh’s blue-line.
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote an article about this recently, and although he doesn’t suggest the team should trade Letang at all, he does mention – for long-term purposes – that the organization would receive great value for the defenseman.
I mean, he’s right.
Forget the Staal-trade, how about the trade that landed them both Matt Niskanen and James Neal? Alex Goligoski, thought to be apart of the Pens’ defensive core for the future, was able to reel-in both of them. And evaluating the trade now, it was just as-good-as the Staal-trade, if not better.
As I referenced earlier, for as much glamour and moxie Letang brings to the lineup, his deal poses a problem for the organization moving forward.
According to Kovacevic, if Pittsburgh is having any second-thoughts about keeping him, now would be the appropriate time for his dismissal, because next season his cap hit will add an extra $3.75 million, and he’ll be able to put 15 teams on his limited no-trade clause.
Dealing him would also open-up the possibility of re-signing Niskanen – who’s playing out of his mind this season. Leading the entire NHL in plus/minus (+29), Niskanen ranks ninth for defenseman in scoring with 30 points (7G, 23A), and has been the team’s most reliable blueliner – given he’s performed in every game for them.
Perhaps, Niskanen’s resurgence has a direct correlation with his expiring contract, but it could also mean he’s a late-bloomer. You got to remember, Niskanen was a first-round pick. So the potential has always been there, it’s just more prevalent now.
Plus, if the Pens’ choose to re-ink Niskanen, I’m sure he’ll likely take a discount to stay. He’s a real character guy the team needs in the locker room — nothing against Letang.
In my opinion, Letang would give Pittsburgh some much needed draft choices, after they surrendered picks for Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Douglas Murray last season. A right-wing for Crosby would be nice, but I think forward Jayson Megna is a great fit for them there.
So should the Pens’ trade Letang? Probably. But will they? You never know.