Your Letang Trade Primer
The two words that will come to define the unfolding Kris Letang situation are unique and rare. Letang’s talent is very unique and only rarely becomes available. Those factors both drive up his asking price and potential trade value. They make him both more difficult to sign and easier to trade.
I do not expect Letang to sign a contract extension with the Penguins. While Letang has often expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh, it seems unlikely that Ray Shero will be able to offer Letang anywhere close to a market value salary. Letang could command a salary of around $8 million per year on the open market, but it seems unlikely Shero would offer him more than $6.5 million or at most $7 million. Letang will also seek a full no movement clause, but Shero has already granted such clauses to both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It would be roster-building suicide to have that much unmoveable salary.
Should Shero make an exception and give Letang what he wants? Letang is only 26 and in the prime of his career. He has been in the Norris discussion for three years now, primarily due to his flashy offensive numbers. Letang has a rare combination of elite skating ability and high-end puck skills that make him one the very best puck carriers manning an NHL blueline. He has shown a great ability to find streaking forwards with long break out passes. He pinches aggressively in the offensive zone, but rarely gets trapped behind the play leading to odd-man breaks the other way due to his sublime skating. He also plays righthanded, a coveted attribute in puck moving defenseman. I’ve noticed a lot of criticism directed toward Letang since the Pens were unceremoniously escorted from the playoffs, but make no mistake: the talents that Letang does have are extraordinarily unique, nearly impossible to acquire, and highly in demand.
So why shouldn’t Shero open up the Burkle and Lemieux vault for Letang like he did for Crosby and Malkin? Letang is not a prototypical franchise defenseman. He is not a Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara, who can dominate all areas of the ice, run a powerplay one shift and shut down the opposing teams best weapons the next. He lacks the big shot and offensive instincts to quarterback the powerplay, the qualities that continue to make Sergei Gonchar a valuable commodity. He is not a complete liability in his own end and in fact can be effective, but he is still prone to lapses in coverage, particularly in transition. His level of play can be volatile, quickly swinging from brilliance to incompetence. He wants to be paid like a true No. 1 franchise defensemen, but his overall game may not be complete enough to merit it.
Shero knows Letang’s game better than anyone. I firmly believe he will not let Letang walk away for nothing when his current deal ends after next year. Nor will he allow the situation to remain unresolved when the season starts and become a distraction. Shero is in the asset business. When an asset becomes too expensive or may soon be lost for nothing, Shero’s history tells us he is not afraid to make big trades. At the trade deadline, he also traded away his 1st and 2nd round picks in the upcoming NHL draft, which is reputed to be an excellent crop of talent. He will seek to recoup some of the picks he traded away in any deal for Letang.
Expect Shero to make the tough call and put Letang on the trade block.
If Letang becomes available for trade, which I predict he will, interest in him will be league-wide. Every GM will at least consider making an offer. Defenseman like Letang, with his talent and age, simply do not become available often. The usual structure of any trade for a player of Letang’s caliber is a top six forward or top four defenseman, top prospect, and a first round pick.
Here’s a few teams who might be a Letang trade partner, organized by the teams with the highest 2013 Draft picks.
The Panthers have a ton of young talent and appear to really be a team quickly on the rise. Letang could join with Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski as well as the developing Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gunbranson to form a very solid defense corps, with offensive upside to burn. The trade possibilities are just endless with how much young talent Florida has. With forward prospects like Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, and Pittsburgh native Vince Trochek, Florida will have a lot of options in forming an offer. If Florida puts top goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom on the table too, there are serious makings for a deal. They have the 2nd overall pick as well. In his indispensible 30 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman said: “If you want to move into the Top 4 [picks of the draft], prepare to give up your first-born child […] If you are going to try and tempt those teams, come at them with a Kate Upton, not a Meg Griffin.” Make no mistake, if the Pens decide to move Letang, he will be as close to Kate Upton as has hit the trade market in quite a long time.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have the 3rd overall pick and needs on defense. Victor Hedman continues to develop slowly and the Lightning lack a high-end offensive defenseman. With the still highly productive Martin St. Louis nearing the end of his career and Steven Stamkos in his prime, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman may look to make a splash and improve his blueline and transition game now. With Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon expected to go first and second overall, the consensus pick for the Lightning is winger Jonathan Drouin. Drouin is a hyper-skilled and dynamic offensive talent who could jump into a top six role next year. He is exactly the kind of winger that would flourish with the two big centers. The Lightning also has one of the best goaltending prospects in hockey in Andrey Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy has shined on the international stage at the World Junior Championships and has had a cup of coffee in the KHL. He remains a year away from coming over to North America.
Nashville has long been a defensive-oriented, strong system club stocked with quality defensemen, but they’ve long struggled to generate offense. There are close personal ties between the clubs (Shero did his Assistant GM apprenticeship with Nashville GM David Poile). Nashville has the 4th overall pick and may not want to pass up an opportunity to select the most high-end offensive forward outside of the mercurial Alexander Radulov in franchise history. If the Predators decide that they want a little more offensive dynamism from their blueline now, Letang would be a fantastic option. Nashville also recently acquired forward prospect Filip Forsberg. Forsberg a very talented, two-way left wing who many thought the Pens would take 8th overall last year instead of Derrick Poiliot. Forsberg’s skating is only average and thus may not be an ideal fit in Dan Bylsma’s system. After Forsberg, the Nashville system is noticeably devoid of impact talent.
New York Islanders
I tend to think that the Pens would be unlikely to trade Letang within the division, but they did trade Staal to Carolina knowing that Carolina would likely be joining their division under realignment (the Staal brother factor was obviously at play as well). So it is possible. The Islanders just lost their best offensive weapon from the blueline in Mark Streit and will need a replacement who can get the puck up to their speedy forwards and work with Tavares on the powerplay. The Islanders have the 15th pick and some really impressive prospects in former top picks Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart. Nino Niederreiter has also gotten his development back on track after being thrown to the wolves too young. GM Garth Snow is a little unconventional, but he is not afraid to make bold moves.
While Carolina faces the same divisional hurdle in crafting a deal as the Islanders, they may have comparable assets to offer. This is becoming a broken record, but Carolina needs an offensive defenseman (starting to make sense why Shero stockpiles these types of players in the draft?). Carolina holds the 5th overall pick, which is the first pick outside what most consider the consensus first tier of draft talent. Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Valeri Nichushkin are all players who would be in the 1st overall conversation in less talented drafts. Some think Nichushkin should be in the conversation this year. The Hurricanes do have young defenseman Ryan Murphy turning pro this coming season, but he will need time in the AHL and has battled concussions. After Murphy, the Hurricanes system is pretty thin.
Edmonton is ready to take the next step forward in their development, but they continue to seek help on the blueline. They need a great offensive defenseman to get the puck out of their own zone and up to their impressive collection of young forwards. They already have Justin Schultz, but he remains a defensive zone liability and a veteran like Letang could take some of the defensive pressure off his shoulders. The Oilers have the 7th overall pick. If Jones, MacKinnon, Drouin and Aleksander Barkov make up the first tier of talent in the draft, the second tier ends around 7th or 8th, so some great talent will still be available when the Oilers pick rolls around. The Oilers would likely have to include one of their skilled young forwards in the deal, but I doubt that would include any of their former 1st overall picks. Perhaps they’d consider moving a Jordan Eberle or Sam Gagner.
The Pens will likely want a roster defenseman back, but their likely trade partners as I see it may not have the defenseman the Pens covet in return. A possible deal:
Pens trade Kris Letang + 2013 3rd Round Pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Teddy Purcell + Andrey Vasilevskiy + 2013 1st Round Pick (Third Overall).
What’s your trade prediction? Send me your thoughts on Twitter