The Time Isn’t Right for the Canadiens to Pursue Letang

The speculation has been ongoing for months linking pending unrestricted free agent Kris Letang to the Montreal Canadiens. So much so that a lot of people in Pittsburgh believe it’s a foregone conclusion that the all-star defenseman will be joining his hometown team this summer.

But adding a player of Letang’s calibre and stature is a significant investment regardless of the sentimental factors involved. While he would no doubt make the Habs better now and into the future, Montreal currently isn’t in a favourable position to bring him into the fold even though, on the surface, it makes a whole lot of sense.

Where Will the Cap Space Come From?

Trade Jeff Petry and sign Letang. Seems like a simple formula for success, right? It’s quite a bit more complicated than that. Sure, the 35-year-old would be the perfect choice to replace Petry. An upgrade on the right side of the top pairing and he would be the best power play quarterback the Canadiens have had since Andrei Markov. Not to mention the positive influence he would have on the Habs’ young blue line prospects and the opportunity to play for Martin St. Louis is an attractive proposition as well.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang has been linked to the Canadiens for some time.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The problem is that Letang is looking for a substantial long-term contract in the five-year range with a cap hit that is higher than the $6.25 million Average Annual Value (AAV) of Petry’s deal. The Canadiens can’t afford that right now even if general manager Kent Hughes manages to give himself some wiggle room under the cap with other roster moves. Giving that type of deal to an aging veteran who has missed a lot of games due to injury throughout his illustrious career isn’t good business. That’s not to say that he hasn’t earned a contract of that magnitude given his impressive 68-point performance this season to prove a lot of people wrong, but the Habs shouldn’t be the team to offer it to him.

Some will say that Hughes, who was Letang’s long-time agent before joining Montreal’s front office, can convince him to accept a hometown discount to play for the Canadiens but that seems like wishful thinking. Plus, what motivation would Letang have to join a team in the midst of a rebuild when he has a finite number of years left to win another Stanley Cup? By the time the Habs are ready to compete again, he’ll likely have a lesser role and his contract will be an even bigger burden, limiting Hughes’ ability to improve to roster around him.  

Other Veteran Options to Replace Petry

Hughes has made it clear that if Petry is traded during the offseason he’ll look to acquire a veteran defenseman to replace him. So, if Letang is too expensive then which players would be good targets either on the trade market or in free agency?

Related: 4 Canadiens Unlikely to Return For 2022-23 Season

Right shot defensemen options are limited in free agency this year, especially players that can provide some consistent offence and run the man advantage. Justin Schultz, who has spent the last two seasons with the Washington Capitals, could fill that role. Josh Manson will also be available but isn’t known for his offensive output. The Habs may have more luck via trade but acquiring a top-four defenseman isn’t a cheap proposition. Still, Hughes has a lot of future assets to work with if he wants to strike a deal.

Jeff Petry Montreal Canadiens
Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Edmonton Oilers will be looking to clear cap space and Tyson Barrie could be expendable to make room for the emerging Evan Bouchard. The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal with $4.5 million AAV. He put up seven goals and 41 points in 2021-22. Matt Dumba has been the subject of trade rumours for some time and could also be on the move to help alleviate the Minnesota Wild’s cap crunch. The 27-year-old is one year away from free agency. If he wants someone younger, Hughes could inquire about the availability of towering defenseman Philippe Myers who is currently with the Nashville Predators.

While Letang is a terrific player with strong ties to the Canadiens organization who would be a marquee acquisition for the Montreal market, the timing just isn’t right to bring him home and despite their close relationship, Hughes would probably agree.