Penguin Notes: The who, what, when, where and why of trading Kris Letang

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By John Toperzer

Starting on July 1, Kris Letang’s eight-year, $58 million contract extension kicks in with an average annual value of $7.25 million, according to Cap Geek.

Combine that number with Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Paul Martin ($5 million) and Marc-Andre Fleury ($5 million), and the Penguins have $35.45 million tied up for 2014-15 in five players. The salary cap is expected to be $70 million, give or take a million (up or down).

The $34.45 million total doesn’t even include James Neal’s $5 million AAV.

So there’s obviously a financial benefit in reducing the costs of a small group of players to reconfigure a group that hasn’t been able to win the Stanley Cup since 2008-09 going forward.

But should Pittsburgh trade Letang? Perhaps a better question should be ‘When should the team trade Kris Letang?’

The Pens are going to need defensemen at the beginning of the year. They could lose Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland, all of whom are unrestricted free agents. Rob Scuderi isn’t the same player he once was and there are question marks surrounding restricted free agent, Simon Despres. That leaves Olli Maatta, Paul Martin, Robert Bortuzzo and Scuderi on the blue line with Letang as defensemen with NHL experience.

Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson and Derrick Pouliot (shoulder surgery) are also possibilities at different points in 2014-15, but fielding a healthy Letang is paramount to the Pens getting off on the right foot for a new general manager (and likely, new head coach).

Given that Letang stroked in late January, it’s reasonable to expect trading partners to see how he plays in November and December. A patented 10-game point streak in November would go a long way toward reassuring other teams that he’s the same player he was prior to 2013-14. Provided he shows that he’s back and healthy, the defender’s trade value then figures to be much higher at the trade deadline deal than it is right now.

Trading Letang in the next couple months would be tantamount to selling a stock low rather than selling high.

Letang’s limited trade clause still allows the Penguins to trade him to 13 teams without his approval. That’s not bad. It takes away some destinations, but gives the new general manager nearly 50 percent of the NHL to work with. The trade clause shouldn’t light the new GM’s pants on fire or force him to make a trade he’ll later regret.

There are reasons to eventually move Letang. The Pens have selected more than their fair share of defenders high in the draft, including Harrington and Pouliot. Pouliot profiles as a player capable of lessening the loss of Letang, offensively, though his play in his own end is still a work in progress. Harrington and Dumoulin might initially fit in better, as both are two-way players (especially Harrington), putting defense atop the list of priorities.

Prospects are never sure things, however. A new GM might come in and trade some of the young talent and keep Letang. That’s certainly possible, though it’s more likely Letang’s $7.25 million AAV gets dealt for help at the forward position.

Presumably, Pascal Dupuis will be back to give the Pens top-six forward depth. Between his advancing age – he’s 35 – and Chris Kunitz’s (34), the team needs an injection of young, top-end offensive talent. Beau Bennett adds to the mix, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since coming to the organization in 2010.

So the issue isn’t so much about trading Letang, it’s about when to do it.

Trading Letang prior to July 1 doesn’t give Pittsburgh the opportunity to recap the value we’ve all seen in him. There’s a reason he received a large extension, but if the organization wants to realize that value in a trade, showcasing Letang’s skills in the regular season will bring back a better haul at the deadline.

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Links ‘n At

Pouliot, Jarry among Pittsburgh Penguins prospects who enjoyed long postseasons, by Hockey Future’s Ian Altenbaugh.

GM search chatter from Stanley Cup Final, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

>> All GM finalists were challenged by Penguins ownership to identify candidates for a new coach in the likely event that current head coach Dan Bylsma was fired as the new GM’s first act.

>> Bylsma could end up quickly being tabbed by Florida to fill its head coach vacancy.

>> Teams were already letting James Neal’s representatives know they would be interested in working out a trade with the Penguins’ new general manager.

Ranking the GM contenders, by Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Spoiler Alert: Molinari ranks Pierre McGuire fourth on the GM list.

Sid the Kid’s sibling commits to Huskies, according to the Boston Herald.

A native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Taylor Crosby is not the first relative of a Penguins legend to attend a local college as Stephanie Lemieux played 14 games for Boston College before concussion issues brought an early halt to her season last winter.

Trading for Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang would be bold, but would it work for the Edmonton Oilers?, the Edmonton Journal asks.

Enjoy the speculation from an Edmonton point of view!

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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