Monday, June 24, 2013

Possible trading partners for Letang

By Jeff

Penguins fans have seen this situation before. A beloved player is in the last year of his contract and looking for a significant contract that may not be best for the Pens. Last year it was Jordan Staal, this year it's Kris Letang.

There are stories out there reporting Letang is looking for at least $7 million per season with a no-movement clause. As talents as Letang is, that's just too much for a player who has come up short in the playoffs the past two postseasons.

While losing Letang will certainly leave a tough hole to fill, as well as lower the overall good looks of the team, the truth is there are a number of teams looking for talented puck-moving defensemen. Letang is one of the best puck-movers in the league, so there is going to be a number of suitors for his services.

Pens GM Ray Shero showed last year he is more than willing to part with fan favorites when he traded Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes. With my limited hockey knowledge, I think Shero needs to do the same this year, and he should get a greater return for Letang than he did for Staal.

The question is, if Letang gets shipped out, where will he go? With a very talented and deep draft class (That's what the experts say, at least.), it would be best if Shero made the move prior to or on draft day. Especially since the team gave up both their first and second round picks in this year's draft to acquire Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray.

Here are my top destinations. Again, I'm no Pierre McQuire or Jeff Marek, so I don't know that much about the OHL and juniors and all that stuff. I only know what I read. If you don't agree with me, you can read what Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers thinks here.

Tampa Bay Lightning - This team has some skilled forwards at the NHL and prospect levels. What they don't really have is talented offensive-minded defenseman. Just Matt Carle. I don't use this phrase often, but Carle deserves it. LOL!

The Lightning have the No. 3 pick this year, so that should be in play with any Letang deal. With that pick, the Pens could take Jonathan Drouin, who scored 41 goals and 64 assists in 49 games with the GMJHL' Halifax Mooseheads last season. He could immediately be plugged in on the first or second lines, especially if talks with Pascal Dupuis go south.

After that, Shero and the Pens should also be asking the Lightning for their goalie prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy. Shero and Pens coach Dan Byslma may have given Marc-Andre Fleury votes of confidence, but history does not lie. Fleury has been a liability in the playoffs the last two seasons and I can't see the team keeping him past 2014-2015 when his contract runs out. They may move him before that. Vasilevskiy is only 17 (He turns 18 in July), but when Fleury's contract runs out, he should be ready to contribute for an NHL team. Of course, other than Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, Shero has not been too keen on bringing in Russians and Europeans.

Maybe the Pens could also get a conditional third or second-round pick next year if Letang is nominated for the Norris Trophy. Just a thought.

Buffalo Sabres - Like the Lightning, the Sabres have a top-10 pick in this year's draft. They may be more willing to part with it since they also have the No. 16 pick. The Pens could also target forward Marcus Foligno, who saw time with the Sabres last year and could be a good, young replacement for Matt Cooke on the third line and penalty kill. Or perhaps they could snatch up Drew Stafford. He took a step back last year, but he scored 31 goals a few seasons ago and could do some serious damage on a line with Sidney Crosby or Malkin.

I don't want Ryan Miller and neither do you!

Calgary Flames - OK, I just put them here since their GM, Jay Feaster, is terrible and Shero could probably abuse him on a deal. The Flames don't have many top-end prospects, so the Pens could ask for their No. 6 pick this year and a first rounder next season as starting points. Feaster is silly and probably thinks his team is only one move away from the playoffs. That move could be Letang in his mind and Shero should at least give him a call.

Edmonton Oilers - The Oilers just fired GM Steve Tambellini and replaced him with Craig Mactavish. Tambellini was scared to move any of his young forwards like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins despite their desperate need for defensemen. Seriously, after Ryan Whitney, I couldn't name one.

Shero could ask for one of these young forwards and Edmonton's first-rounder this year (No. 7) that the Pens could use on defenseman Darnell Nurse or forward Max Domi.

As a Pens fan, I like Letang. His defense has improved every year in the regular season and he has become more physical (Remember the John Tavares hit in Game 1?). But with a hard salary cap, tough decisions must be made. Does the team want to a guy who plays great in regular season but doesn't have the mental game to handle the playoffs more than $7 million a year for at least 5 years? With multiple skilled defensive prospects who play similar to Letang in the system, and the pressing need for offensive defensemen across the league, it's probably best to move him and bring back a bounty of young, high-potential players.

But what I think and what you think doesn't matter. The decision is up to Shero, and he usually makes the right move. We'll just have to wait and see.

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