Sportsnet’s Saturday Headlines is always must-see television. This week, Sportsnet’s insiders discussed the Pittsburgh Penguins looking to make a big move. They’re three points out of a playoff spot, and Kris Letang might be available.
Letang makes a lot of money. He has four more years left at $7.25 million per year. Nick Kypreos cites shedding salary and their Stanley Cup win without Letang as reasons Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford would be comfortable trading the offensive defenceman. Elliotte Friedman says they’d be looking for two impact forwards, a centre and a winger, although, health is a big concern in any talks around Letang.
Edmonton’s need for a puck-moving, right-handed defenceman is still there. Adam Larsson is capable of playing a top four role on the right side, but Edmonton lacks another right-handed option to compliment their talented left-handed defenceman. Kris Russell and Matt Benning are better suited to third-pairing roles. Letang would solidify the Oilers defence, giving them an offensive option they haven’t had on the blueline in years.
I’ve written about the Oilers and Erik Karlsson here, but Letang is different. He’s signed long-term and doesn’t need the mega contract Karlsson does. The shedding salary comment makes me wonder if Pittsburgh just wants to get rid of Letang’s and his injury issues and cap hit and fill out their forward depth in the process. This doesn’t mean he’ll get traded for two bums, but this could be a winnable trade.
Presumably, the Penguins would want to send him out West. There’s only so many teams that can take on Letang that don’t already have big money committed to their right side or defense in general, and you wouldn’t want Letang coming back to haunt you in conference or division. Vegas and Vancouver would be two other options in the West, but both aren’t in win-now mode like Edmonton is.
If the Penguins want a centre, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the only logical name but his $6-million cap hit wouldn’t help shed much salary. Pittsburgh might want younger, cheaper options than the Oilers have. Still, you can find good centres and wingers. 25-minute defencemen? Not so easy.
Letang’s injury issues are troubling. He’s played every game this season but dressed in over 60 games in a season just twice in the last seven years. Letang can play 25 minutes a game, but how much is that worth if he misses significant time each year?
Even with his injury issues, can the Oilers afford to pass on another right-handed defenceman? Defenceman who average over 50 points a season aren’t available very often. Letang’s durability is questionable, but that gamble might be worth it if he can stay relatively healthy. Dynamic, offensive defenceman whose reasonably priced and capable of playing over 25 minutes a night are rare, and usually never available.