The Edmonton Oilers aren’t mathematically out of the playoffs but it’s a virtual guarantee they won’t see the postseason in 2018. As such, trade deadline deals seem like a sure thing and beyond the rumored Patrick Maroon deal sitting near the top of most trade bait boards, veteran-depth forward Mark Letestu is a name that gets tossed around in trade speculation.
The fourth-line center for the Oilers has been, for the most part, a great addition to the team. When the Oilers gave him a three-year contract in the summer of 2015, some questioned the move but he proved to be an excellent faceoff player, steady and reliable five-on-five and a regular on the penalty kill. For his relatively low salary, he offered a huge bonus on the power play which most fans weren’t expecting.
But, despite Letestu being worth every penny the Oilers gave him, with the player being an unrestricted free agent this summer and a number of teams looking for help at his position, it makes sense the Oilers would be considering a trade. Is it a good idea?
Related: Should Maroon Remain an Oiler?
Why You Trade Letestu
Like in year’s past, if you take a look at the trade market for centers at this year’s deadline, you’ll see the pool is fairly shallow. Most teams want to hang onto their own assets in this position and right-handed centers of value are often hard to come by. Those who badly need one will often overpay to acquire one and this makes Letestu a valuable commodity.
Some might argue there are other centers out there but in reality, making a fair comparison means removing players like Joe Thornton, John Tavares, and Paul Stastny from the equation. These are top-line centers who are not in the same category and their salaries being what they are, eliminate them from a number of team’s radars. Next, you need to take off the players who are still playing for contending teams. While they might be UFA’s their respective organizations are not willing to part with an asset at the point they might need them most.
What you’re left with are players like David Desharnais and Matt Cullen, among a couple others. All will spark some interest but the Oilers are one of the few teams who can wave a right-handed center out there in the market and see who bites.
The Center Value Precedent
If you consider that there was a similar situation last year and the Tampa Bay Lightning got a second-round draft pick and center Byron Froese for Brian Boyle as a rental. That’s pretty good get for a guy like Letestu. The Oilers are not stalked full of bubbling prospects and a second-round pick would be of value.
The argument to move him boils down to the fact the Oilers wouldn’t be trading low here. For a team that needs to get something of value in return to move pieces, Letestu could be one of the few players that could fetch a higher than expected return.
Why You Don’t Trade Letestu
For many of the reasons listed as to why teams value centers like Letestu, these same reasons are why you don’t trade him. Letestu might fetch a decent return but then the Oilers give up all of the assets he provides. As the saying goes, when you trade a player like Letestu, you need to then find a player like Letestu.
Faceoffs are not the Oilers specialty, yet, Letestu has been above fifty percent since his arrival. The Oilers penalty kill and power play numbers this season have been horrendous and Letestu is part of the reason both have found success in the past. The team arguably lost some leadership over the summer and Letestu is a leader. He gives the Oilers something the team lacks and he does so at a reasonable salary of $1.8 million.
He’s an Alberta kid, he likely realizes this season is an anomaly for the Oilers and that the club should rebound next year. His willingness to re-sign at a value contract to the team is better than average and perhaps the Oilers don’t set free useful talent because of one poor season.
Trade Letestu Or Not?
As valuable as Letestu can be to the Oilers and yes, the team would miss him, he’ hasn’t had the greatest season this year and that could be a sign of his game declining a touch. If that’s the case, the time to trade a player like him is now, especially if the market is willing to bear a better return than he’ll get at any other time.
This is a situation where as playoffs teams creep closer to the deadline and fewer rental centers become available, Letestu’s value goes up. The Oilers can’t ignore the fact that they’re likely out of the running nor can they ignore the opportunity to obtain real value for an asset.