Starkey: Letang exit would weaken Penguins
By Joe Starkey
Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:03 p.m.
Kris Letang isn't the kind of hockey player a team discards without regret.
Kind of like Jordan Staal, you know?
Ray Shero, under the circumstances, made an amazing trade with Carolina last summer. But that doesn't mean the Penguins were better for it when the big games arrived.
Do you think Staal's size, strength and playoff pedigree might have helped against the Bruins?
There's a reason Shero once said he would never trade Staal. And remember, his preference was to retain Staal. That's why the Penguins offered him nearly $60 million to stay.
Staal wanted out, leaving Shero little choice but to move him.
Here's hoping the Penguins are just as serious about keeping Letang. Not at any cost, mind you, but with all these high-priced forwards around, you better have an elite triggerman on your blue line.
Listening to some of the prattle around town, you'd think Letang was perfectly expendable. Easily replaceable. We've even heard that some inside the organization believe Paul Martin is the team's best defenseman.
Really? I'd love to test that theory.
I'd love to ask the other 29 GMs who they'd rather graft onto the roster — Kris Letang or Paul Martin. I'm fairly certain all 29, after they asked me 58 times to repeat the question, would choose Letang. And recommend counseling.
I still remember Scotty Bowman raving about Letang before the '08 Cup Final, before most people knew what kind of player he was. Scotty could see it. So can Paul Coffey, who makes that clear whenever he's in town.
As bad as Letang was against Boston, he is a rare, dynamic defenseman. He is a player who could win multiple Norris Trophies.
So, please, trot out your advanced metrics and theories about Letang being an offense-obsessed, out-of-control, injury riddled head case.
He's not the crazy one.
I'll stick with this: In his past 86 games over two seasons, Letang has 80 points and a plus-37 rating. He is a unique combination of skill, toughness, speed and off-the-charts stamina.
Letang is constantly challenged, consistently targeted and holds up to the tune of 27-plus minutes per game. He also does things like return concussed at Montreal to score the winning goal.
He is coachable, too. The staff — which never settled on a partner for Letang this season — asked him to tone down his act so he cut his penalty minutes to eight.
Yes, Letang has missed too many games of late. He could improve on the power play. So could Sidney Crosby. He could stand to grow up a bit and not so easily succumb to frustration and mindless turnovers. So could Evgeni Malkin.
Which brings us to the key question: What is a fair offer?
Upwards of $7 million a year, I'd say. A five-year, $35 million deal would be perfectly reasonable and would leave Letang with one more big contract ahead.
Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Brian Campbell and Drew Doughty are the NHL's $7 million defenseman, in terms of annual cap hits. Five more, including Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, are at $6.5 million-plus.
Letang's next deal could set the bar for post-lockout defensemen. If early indications mean anything, the bar will be ridiculously high. Mark Streit, 35, just signed a four-year, $21 million deal with Philly. Sergei Gonchar, 39, got $10 million over two years in Dallas.
So what's a 26-year-old Norris finalist worth?
Letang might be tempted to find out after next season, and nobody should blame him. He is not obliged to follow the paths of Malkin, Crosby and others by taking a hometown discount.
The Penguins could always try to trade Letang at next year's deadline or keep him until his contract expires. But where's the sense in allowing him to leave without proper compensation?
In the meantime, there's only so much room in the budget. The Penguins wisely prioritized Malkin over Letang. The good news is that if Letang prices himself out of town, he could command a nice return, and the Penguins already are stocked with talented young defense prospects, starting with Simon Despres.
Let's be clear, though: None of the young guys are Letang — and there's no guarantee any would be.
The Penguins would absolutely be a lesser team without him.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Host of Steelers veterans look toward career survival mode
- Steelers film session: Polamalu not at fault on long run
- UPMC doctor killed trying to help at 50-vehicle pileup
- One dead in officer-involved shooting in Monroeville
- Young defensemen lift Penguins to win
- Pirates notebook: Huntington narrows team’s offseason targets
- McKeesport Festival of Trees raised holiday spirits of needy
- Versailles moves to join enterprise zone
- McKeesport progressing toward resolution of suit
- Expert: KO doesn’t mean ‘worst’ concussion for Pens’ Orpik
- Search continues for abductor