Monday, June 17, 2013

Kris Letang Trade Week, Day 1: The scene is set for a blockbuster, so let's throw out 5 crazy hypothetical trades. Day 1, Toronto

By GTOG Staff

In our acclaimed season recap podcast, we made the case that the Pens had to at least try to sign Kris Letang to an extension.  He is maddeningly frustrating, but can also be terrifyingly good.  He gives the Pens the best chance of winning the Cup next year and even if he eats up too much of the cap 3 or 4 years from now, he will still be a tradeable asset if/when the Pens develop another guy who can play 22+ minutes a night.  (Watch for the negotiations about whether Letang gets a no-trade clause.  He may really want one.  The Pens would be nuts to give it to him).

This is exactly what Shero should do to Letang's agent if he asks for a NTC
A fair price would be 8 years for $56 million with an average annual cap hit of $7 million.  Expensive, but you have to pay for quality.  Though there is uncertainly about how much the cap will rise after its initial drop next season, most are very bullish, meaning the contract could be easier to digest over time.

Is it affordable now? Answering that, and the first of five hypothetical Kris Letang trades, after the jump...
Re-signing Letang would only come at a significant, and perhaps prohibitive, cost to the rest of the roster. If the Pens extend Letang at $7 million/year, they'd have around $45 million tied up in 8 guys heading into the 2014-15 season (this assumes re-signing Dupuis at ~$4 million/year, though we think that's on the high side).  Simon Despres would be the Pens' highest profile RFA heading into that off-season.

For the sake of optimism, let's assume that the cap jumps back to what it is today ($70 million) entering '14-'15. The Pens would have approximately $25 million left over to pay 14 or 15 roster players, including Despres. That's about $1.6-$1.8 million per player, which means the Pens will either have a lot of league minimum guys or will round out the roster with a dozen Matt Cookes.  It's not terrible if you have a few guys under $1M, but it requires some guys to really outperform their salary, a kind way of saying that the coaching staff has to show some trust in the young guys and develop them.

Not the right strategy going forward.
What all this leads us to believe is not that the Pens must trade Letang, but that it's very difficult to imagine keeping both Fleury and Letang. Devoting $4-5 million total to goaltending rather than $7M would be a big relief.  If that doesn't seem like enough money for two goalies, consider: this season, the Bruins committed $4.375M to goalies, and the Blackhawks committed $3.81M.  It's hard to identify value in goalies, but Ray Shero makes a lot of money to do things that are hard.

[Not-so-quick tangent: One of these hard things is maintaining professionalism and a sense of the big picture when in front of the media, something Shero has handled very well.  Though not everyone is impressed.  Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy, the troll of trolls, the incessant whiner who thinks he's smarter than everyone else even though he once lost an argument to John Steigerwald, the peddler of smug self-righteous paternalism who basically spends the entirety of his time complaining about how dumb hockey is, complained (surprising, right?) that Ray Shero gave Marc-Andre Fleury a "vote of confidence" during Shero's press conference.

Great point, Lambert.  The better thing for Shero to do would have been to say, "hey everyone, my goalie stinks and we are desperate to get rid of him, now make me a great offer!"  Fans can slam players with no repercussions; but it's the height of irresponsibility for a manager looking to maximize the value of a player to do anything other than publicly express support and appreciation for that player.  If Shero wants to get rid of Fleury (and he should), he has to pretend that he wants to keep Flower.  If Shero does end up keeping Fleury, whether by choice or because there are no takers for him, there is nothing to gain from a public humiliation.  We can only assume that if Lambert put his house up for sale, he'd title the Craigslist post: "SHITTY HOUSE IN TERRIBLE NEIGHBORHOOD FOR SALE!"

And finally, let's not forget that Shero and Fleury have worked together for 7 years and probably like each other personally -- you don't go out and rip someone publicly who you like.  Maybe this is hard for Lambert to understand (again, he once lost an argument to John Steigerwald), but it's also what makes the Penguins a destination franchise.  The Iginla and Morrow trades didn't work out on the ice, but they both chose to come to Pittsburgh because they wanted to play here.  We don't care that Lambert doesn't recognize the value in that. We're just glad Ray Shero does. End of tangent.]

This sets up what is likely to be a repeat of the Jordan Staal scenario: the Pens have a genuine interest in keeping the guy and make a competitive offer to do so.  If the player wants it, he stays.  If not, he's traded within a matter of days.

We'd be stunned if any of his kids' names didn't start with a K.
For the sake of wasting time, let's assume there's a trade.  What's the return?  We begin a week of exploring five unrealistic trades below, an exercise we embark on because we enjoy hockey and the NHL, not because we think these trades would actually happen.

Keep in mind:

1) Letang will only count $3.5 million against the cap this coming season, making him one of the league's best bargains in 2013-14.  His contract expiration is also well-timed because while the salary cap is dropping next year (when Letang will be affordable for almost anyone) the cap can, and probably will, rise every year after as Letang gets more expensive.  If you're bullish on the growth of the salary cap, or if you have a lot of money scheduled to come off the salary cap after the 2013-14 season [cut to us pointing at the Sedin twins], Letang is the perfect asset.

2) Letang is better than Jordan Staal.  For all of Letang's faults, this is not even a close comparison.  Letang is one of the most physically gifted players in the league; Jordan Staal is a super-tall beast with a good hockey sense, but he also has hands of stone and scores only bi-weekly for long stretches of a season.  The Staal deal is a good starting point for a Letang trade, but the Pens have to get back more than prospects and the Brandon Sutter of The Blueline.

3) Trading Kris Letang has the potential to become the worst move of Ray Shero's career.  The potential downside of trading Letang far outweighs the potential upside.  Although Letang is actually a little bit older (26) than you'd think given his on-ice immaturity, there's still exponential room for growth.  It might be as simple as getting him a new coach that can tighten the reins [cut to us pointing at Mike Babcock] to get more Good Letang and less Shout-Go-F-Yourself-At-The-TV-Letang.

Hypothetical Trade #1: The Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto gets: Kris Letang
Pittsburgh gets: James Van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner and a #1 pick (21st overall)

Why it makes sense for Toronto: They get a marquee guy who plays an attractive style of hockey; makes them even faster and an even tougher match-up for any team in the East; takes offensive pressure off of Dion Phaneuf thereby freeing him up to destroy more people in open ice; Letang is insurance if the Leafs plan to let Phaneuf walk as a UFA after the coming season; Letang still has upside.

Why it makes sense for Pittsburgh: JVR is super-talented and a presence in front; he has a reasonable contract at $4.25M/year through 2018, meaning the Pens would have a top-4 of Sid, Geno, Neal, and JVR locked up for the next 5 seasons; though JVR hasn't shown consistent production, he did have 32 points in 48 games last season so he might very well be on the verge of breaking out like James Neal did 2 years ago; Gardiner had a rocky regular season but got rave reviews in the playoffs and was even compared to Scott Neidermayer by Joffrey Lupul; Pens get back into the first round (and maybe take a goalie?); Gardiner is a RFA after this season so the Pens could probably lock him up at a very reasonable $2-$4M/year price tag over the next 2-3 years rather than the $7M they'd have to give Letang.

Why it wouldn't happen: The Leafs made a very similar deal for Phil Kessel -- they gave Boston a 2nd overall pick (Tyler Seguin), a 9th overall pick (Dougie Hamilton), and a 32nd overall pick (Jared Knight).  This proposed trade would be similar -- JVR was 2nd overall, Gardiner 17th overall, and Toronto's 1st rounder this season is 21st overall.  The Leafs may be hesitant to give up another 3 pieces -- especially ones who they already know are pretty good players -- in exchange for just one guy because they're already trending up without Letang.

From the Pens perspective, the key is how quickly Gardiner can develop and even if the Pens are really high on him, there would still be too much uncertainty on the blue-line this coming season.  In any deal that unloads Letang's erratic play, the Pens need some steadiness in return. Gardiner may become that, but he also may be too uncertain this coming season.

Like the Staal trade, this move would only be the start of the broader strategy, as the Pens would still need more defense.  The Pens could scour the free agent market, the buyouts, or maybe move one of their perpetually-discussed prospects to get another D-man who can eat up some minutes and bodies.  Or they could follow up this trade by moving the one person this deal would make most expendable:

Wave goodbye to Hands? Noooooooo!!!!

4 comments:

  1. Great post boys, as always.
    I'm saving judgment until I see all five crazy hypothetical trades, but just wanted to say that the Lambert tangent was great. That guy's an idiot. I enjoy Puck Daddy for the most part (Mooney's the best), and I really can't understand how they can still let Lambert write for them. I try to avoid his posts and tweets as much as I can, but from the little that I see, I get the sense that he really doesn't enjoy the game of hockey. Your description of him was perfect.

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  2. Get ready to be stunned: Letang's kid is named Alexander.

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    1. I hope his kids are Al and Frank Letang.

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