Apr 26, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) celebrates with the bench after scoring an empty net goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period in game five of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pens Can't Trade Kris Letang, So He Must Become A Leader

Pens’ defenseman Kris Letang had a rough 2013-14 campaign.

Missing 45 games during the regular-season, Letang sustained various injuries from a lower-body ailment at the start of the year, to an infection in his elbow, but suffered what nobody would have ever imagined: a stroke.

At age 26, the thought of a stroke doesn’t seem to be a possibility, especially for someone who takes care of his body on a daily basis, but Letang battled a career-threatening condition, and surprisingly was healthy enough to return towards the tail-end of the regular-season.

Due to these various injuries, one could put two-and-two together, and assume that they had played a huge factor in how Letang performed. In 37 games during the regular-season, Letang registered 22 points (11G, 11A) and skated to an abysmal minus-8 rating. And in the playoffs, Letang recorded six points (2G, 4A) while skating to a plus-2 rating in 13 tilts.

Those numbers were hardly even close to what Letang manufactured in the 2012-13 campaign, which saw him being nominated for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman). In two less contests than 2013-14, Letang posted 16 more points (38), and skated to a phenomenal plus-16 rating, which ultimately resulted in him earning an eight-year, $58 million extension last summer.

If you’re a Pens’ fan, you just have to hope that the injuries were in fact the main reason as to why he wasn’t as productive, because trading him is nearly impossible now that his contract will go into effect Jul. 1 ($7.25 million per year). And I don’t know who would be willing to take a chance on him after learning of his stroke episode – let alone his salary.

Brooks Orpik is likely done being a Pittsburgh Penguin, Matt Niskanen will be difficult to re-sign, and Paul Martin is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. With a list of young defensemen ready to make the transition to the pros, Letang’s ability to forget about this past season and focusing on becoming a leader for the Pens’ defensive corps is growing imperative by the year.

In order for Letang to do that, he must lead by example with his communication and play. Letang had a major issue with puck management, and didn’t do a good job of picking up his assignments last season. Should Niskanen and Orpik depart, Letang’s going to have to improve promptly. Not just because the Pens need him more than ever if both Niskanen and Orpik leave, but, as I said, they’ll have an increasing amount of young defensemen reaching the NHL sooner rather than later. So, posing as a mentor will be inevitable.

All the dilemmas that surrounded Letang last season made fans acquire amnesia towards remembering the contributions he’s delivered years before. Letang is too skilled and too diligent to endure another down year.

If he does, and doesn’t remotely show any leadership qualities, boy is he getting paid for no reason.

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