Should the Oilers Consider Kris Letang?

After losing four games to the New York Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a team about to make some significant changes. GM Jim Rutherford told media Thursday during a press conference:

I wonder if there’s too many guys content with where they are at in their careers after winning a couple of Stanley Cups and is that a signal where some of that has to be changed?” .. “We have a lot of good players and players with good resumes… Depending what changes we decide to make, we have valuable assets to make some of those changes.”

source – ‘Big Changes Coming? GM Rutherford Questions Penguins Commitment’ – Dan Kingerski –

Rutherford could be speaking about any number of players but among the speculated names, Kris Letang should stick out for Edmonton Oilers fans.

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Why Letang Would Get Traded

The reality is, Letang shouldn’t get traded. But, the Penguins might not be dealing in logic over the next few weeks to months. Having been swept in the first round of the playoffs and being a team that is run by an active GM, some guys will be moved that probably shouldn’t be.

Kris Letang Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, January 2, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Letang is one of those guys. A stud defenseman, at 31, he’s still very capable and the kind of player who other teams will happily move valued assets for. The Oilers would be among them.

Yet, in Pittsburgh, he’s currently being run through the wringer. Letang defiantly said Thursday he doesn’t believe he needs to change his aggressive style of play even though some are expecting him to say as much after a few failed gambles contributed to four-straight losses.

Sounding like a guy being forced to defend himself, Letang said:

“You don’t want me to make mistakes? I’ll try that,” he said after a back-and-forth with a reporter. “Next year, I’ll try to make no mistakes at all. Maybe next year you’re going to say, ‘We have Kris in our lineup. He doesn’t do anything offensively.’ Now you’re going to rip me apart because I don’t produce anything.”

source -‘Defiant Kris Letang won’t ‘change the type of game I play’ – MATT VENSEL- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This is not a player you want to chase out of town but Penguins fans and media are looking for a scapegoat. In many ways, they’ve targeted their best defenseman.

Letang has three years left on his deal at a $7.25 million per season. He has has a limited no-trade clause (one that allows him to list 18 teams he can be traded to) and if the Penguins can find the right deal they might move him.

Related: Should the Oilers Consider Nazem Kadri?

Why the Oilers Would Want Letang

Letang’s salary might be problematic for the Oilers but there is a lot to like here if the team (and new GM) can figure out the optics.

An offensively-gifted blueliner, Letang’s style of game is something the Oilers badly need — offense from the back end. This season, Letang scored 56 points in 65 games and had a bounceback season. If not for a nagging neck issue, he might have broken single-season records for himself. His best year came in 2015-16 when he potted 67 points in 71 games and 15 more in 23 playoff contests. The season before this one, he scored 51 points in 79.

Offense is not a concern with this player.

Kris Letang - Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, Apr. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In one move, the Oilers will have solved a number of problems. They need a power play quarterback. Check. They need offense from the blue line. Check. They need leadership and experience. Check. Another winner on the team. Check.

The Oilers finally getting the best player in a trade? That would be something, wouldn’t it?

What’s the Hesitation?

There are a few things that make this trade (if something the Penguins actually consider) harder to do than to talk about. First, Letang isn’t cheap. At $7.25 million, the Oilers would have to make some additional moves.

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe Edmonton ships back another blueliner and moves some salary the other way but the Penguins want someone that isn’t a castoff. That might be an Oscar Klefbom or a Darnell Nurse. Both are lefties and Letang is a righty. Righty for righty probably won’t work as the Penguins don’t do this deal for a player like Adam Larsson or Kris Russell as the centerpiece.

Second, Letang does have a history of injuries. He seems to have off-and-on seasons but he’s also spent a lot of time on the shelf and if the Oilers are going to invest this kind of time and money into someone, they’d better hope he’s feeling up to it.

Finally, the Penguins may not start a conversation with Edmonton if the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn’t involved.