ShareThis Page

Scouts: Penguins would have hard time improving by trading Kris Letang

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, 4:47 p.m.
The Penguins' Kris Letang secures the puck Sabres forward Kyle Okposo in the second period Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang secures the puck Sabres forward Kyle Okposo in the second period Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Kris Letang secures the puck in front of Sabres forward Kyle Okposo in the second period Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang secures the puck in front of Sabres forward Kyle Okposo in the second period Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.

Kris Letang has been on the ice for 38 even-strength goals against this season, tied for the most among NHL defensemen.

Ardent Penguins fans probably could detail every one of them.

That's the nature of fandom, especially for a team struggling to find its form like the Penguins have been most of this season. Each mistake makes an indelible, festering memory.

The 30,000-foot view of Letang's season, however, is very different. A pair of NHL scouts who have watched him play this year, one from each conference, believe he still is among the top defensemen in the league.

“I think he's a very elite defenseman,” a Western Conference scout said. “He does things guys can't do. He's still a great skater. He can still shoot the puck. He's got great offensive instincts and skill. I just think he's pressing right now, and it isn't turning out the way he wants.”

Without a rooting interest, scouts seem more inclined to give Letang a longer grace period to get his game in order coming off major neck surgery in April.

“He could definitely calm his game down a little more and pick his spots a little better, but I think that has to do with the team struggling,” the Western scout said. “They're not where they're used to being. He probably thinks, ‘Well, I gotta do more.' Sometimes, doing less is more. I think he's kind of going as the group's going right now.”

Letang missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury as the Penguins fell 2-1 to Carolina on Friday night. His presence on the breakout, especially as the Penguins were hemmed in their own zone for the vast majority of the second period, was missed.

Letang's name has been in the headlines in recent days thanks to his presence in trade rumors. Those rumors were shot down by multiple sources Friday, but even if they hadn't been, scouts think it would be hard for the Penguins to find a deal for Letang that would make the team better.

Letang has a partial no-trade clause that lists 12 teams to which he cannot be dealt. Out of the remaining 18 teams, the Penguins would have to find a trade partner that matches up in specific ways.

There are teams that rightfully might think Letang is the missing piece that instantly would vault them into Stanley Cup contention. Those teams, however, probably don't have the cap space to accommodate Letang's $7.25 million salary or the desire to part with the type of impact players the Penguins would want in return.

Rebuilding teams with cap space, meanwhile, are usually trying to move stars over the age of 30, not add them.

“It would have to be a hockey trade, not a money dump,” the Western scout said.

The acquisition of Jamie Oleksiak from Dallas earlier this month and the emergence of Chad Ruhwedel as a potential lineup regular have given the Penguins more depth on the blue line than they started the season with. Once they get healthy, it's a position general manager Jim Rutherford could deal from to address other issues.

Still, though, it's not like they could trade a player of Letang's caliber without feeling ill effects, even if they did win the Stanley Cup last season without him.

“Where do you get the talent to replace him? That's the bottom line,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “Can a player come in and fill the void in our top four, plus we get this, plus we get this? That's the struggle.”

Add it all up, and for the Penguins, a return to form for Letang probably would be exponentially more valuable than any return the team could get in a trade.

“He's a high-risk player,” the Eastern scout said, “but when he's on and moving the puck, this guy can make as good a play as anybody.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.

click me