The Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford asked defenseman Kris Letang to submit a 15-team list of trade destinations last month.
While that is not news in and of itself, Letang told TVA Sports that the Canadiens are on his shortlist of acceptable trade destinations.
Report : Letang was asked to submit a 15-team list to Rutherford last month. Not on block. FYI Habs are on that list. http://t.co/a0PqCVZ1zq
— L.A. Lariviere (@L_A_theRiver) July 12, 2014
Letang has a no-trade clause in his 8-year, $58 million contract that gives him the right to refuse trades to teams he’s not interested in playing for. If the Penguins are looking to move a large salary, Letang is certainly to be traded before Malkin or Crosby. His yearly cap hit is $7.25 million and his recent health issues contributed to a difficult season.
The 27-year-old defenseman injured his knee in training camp, taking a few weeks to recover, and was caught unawares by a stroke on a team trip in February.
Letang was able to return to play 10 weeks after his stroke, but it was difficult for him to jump back into play on a team that had geared up for the playoffs while he was recovering.
Despite his injuries Letang still broke 22 points in only 37 games. Had he played the entire season, we can extrapolate that he would have come close to breaking, if not actually crossing, the 50-point line, putting him in the top 10 defensive players in the NHL.
Letang’s name was involved in trade rumors earlier in the season, similarly to Neal, who has been traded to Nashville. Should the Penguins shop Letang around to free up some cap space, there’s a good chance the Montreal native would welcome the chance to return home.
But would it be worth trading for Letang? Hooks Orpik of SB Nation puts it best:
When Letang is at his best, he’s a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman that play an absurd amount of minutes, is capable lead rushes up the ice and produce close to a point per game in long stretches. When he’s at his worst he’s a defensive liability and a mentally weak player prone to mistakes.
Letang plays an offensive-defensive style similar to Subban’s, so should Montreal somehow acquire him without losing anyone particularly valuable (by stealing him away in the night, perhaps?) it would be foolish to pair them up. Especially considering they both play the right side.
He can get caught up in the chase, so he’d need a partner like the freshly-trade Gorges who likes to stay low and keep the crease clear. I suggested before that Therrien pair Gilbert with Subban as they’re both offensive-minded defensemen. Other factors go into it, too, notably that Subban would be able to more or less indoctrinate his new partner to the Montreal way.
Assuming Subban and Gilbert make up the first defensive pairing and Letang one half of the second, Therrien would want to partner him with fast, smart defender who’s been with the Canadiens a number of years, such as Andrei Markov. Markov would be able to mentor his new D partner while supporting his more aggressive playing style.
Injuries aside, Letang is a phenomenal athlete, one who plays his heart out. He’s a regular scorer, which is no small feat for a defenseman, and was a Norris Trophy finalist last year.
The only thing standing in his way is his on-ice discipline.
At times, he reminds me of Dug from Pixar’s Up — a perfectly intelligent player until he can no longer resist the lure of the squirrel. Puck. Whichever. While Pittsburgh has been content to let him go his own way at times, Montreal’s system could be structured enough to let his defensive capabilities shine through while not letting his sense of ego get out of hand.
If Montreal decides to trade for Letang, Pittsburgh would doubtless want to secure a highly-skilled young player they could develop, as well as a second- or third-round pick in next year’s draft. I could see Pittsburgh interested in trading Letang for Brendan Gallagher to replace Neal on Malkin’s right wing.
That would likely be a no-go for Montreal, taking Gallagher’s youth and current level of production into account. Although Gallagher’s contract is up at the end of the 2014-15 season, meaning his currently modest cap hit of $685,000 will certainly go up, Montreal is unlikely to part with Gallagher, who had 41 points this season and is likely to only improve.
Another trade option is Letang for Tokarski, as well as a second- or third-rounder. While Pittsburgh has shown a lot of faith in Fleury they can’t ignore his age and relatively low save percentage at 30 and .915% respectively. With his contract up at the end of the following season, Pittsburgh needs a young backup goalie they could move up to the front line in a year or so.
While Tokarski had a phenomenal run in the postseason, he should be interested in moving to a starting position after he gets a little more practice under his belt. Considering their roster, the Canadiens could let him go without too much fuss. Budaj is a strong enough backup goalie for Price, and barring another skates-first slide, Price isn’t likely to need the support too often, especially if Bergevin strengthens the defensive roster in front of him.
True, the Penguins would need to shop Letang first, but this could be the trade that would bring Letang to the Canadiens.