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Thursday, June 13, 2013

What's Next: Kris Letang

The What's Next series is part of an ongoing look from the Pens Initiative staff taking a look at the Penguins UFAs, RFAs, and most polarizing personalities heading into the next season.  We look at the year that was and the year coming and wonder: What's Next.

He astounds and confounds.  He piles up points and produces cringes.  His hair is as sexy as his points columns, his +/- can be as scary as life without him.  He's soon due for a large raise but what's his worth to the Pens compared to his value?  Should he stay?  Should he go?  It's What's Next for Kris Letang.

He's coming off what could be, statistically, his best year.  Unfortunately all we can do is guess or extrapolate this but his Norris nomination says that he either had his best year or is finally being recognized for his impressive body of work since he came into the league in 2007-08.

Unfortunately this comes on the heels of Letang having perhaps the worst playoffs of any Penguins star and at a time when he's near due for a raise.

Paul Martin and Kris Letang
What he's worth is easy to guess but his reported contract demands of $7 million aren't too far off.  His true value is hard to quantify.  He's a game changer on offense and defense.  He controls the puck up the rush like few other d-men in the league, can break out with the best of them and has a mind for offense that sets him apart from others.

His speed is immense.  When he is on his horse he can get from one end of the ice to the other in the blink of an eye.  His shot can be impressive as his 10 goals last year and 5 goals in a little over half of a season this season can attest.  His physicality is underrated as he gets the most out of his 6', 200 lbs frame.

He's also capable of absolutely mind boggling plays.  Horrible turn overs, awful passes, terrible give aways.  As Phil Borque said this post season during a radio broadcast, "I've never seen a player whose highs are so high and lows are so low."

There are times he plays like a player who has earned every penny of a $7 million per year contract.  Then there are stretches, as we just saw, where he looks like he isn't even worth the $3.5 million he's currently making.

A million dollar body (athletically) coupled with a dime store head.

What's the worth of Kristopher Letang?

His value is off of the charts.  Someone will pay him near $7 million on his next contract.  That's a given.  He's a Norris finalist, he's a defenseman that scores at a near point per game pace and can change the course of the game.

His worth?  That's much less.

Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal
He's an offensive star on a team deep with offensive stars.  He's an offensive defenseman who plays for a team who is stacked with offensive defenseman, both on the team (Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen), waiting in the press box (Simon Despres) and many in the system (Derek Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington).  He's a top flight player on a team full of top flight players.  He's a high dollar player on a team unable to spare top flight players.

Most of all he's been ineffective.

He scores but when asked to quarterback a power play he thinks too much and makes horrible decisions.  That's where the biggest drop off occurs.  If you can't have your high paid defender, one who is an offensive dynamo, on your power play what good is he really?

When Paul Martin is a more effective power play QB, who is just as capable of joining the rush and plays a consistent and steady defensive game, he severely diminishes the value of Kris Letang to the Penguins.

When Simon Despres is ready to make the next step and become an offensive defenseman on the Penguins and contribute to the Pens in all areas it diminishes the value of Kris Letang to the Penguins.

Simon Despres
When the Penguins are replete with offensive options, both up front in James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Beau Bennett, Chris Kunitz, possibly Jarome Iginla or Pascal Dupuis, and at the blue line in Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, and Simon Despres it greatly diminishes the value of Kris Letang to the Penguins.

Kris Letang is worth a lot of money.  He's going to be a very, very rich man at some point in the near-to-not-too-distant future.  His value to the Penguins, however, has diminished based on his poor play these playoffs plus the maturation and adjustments of others.

The Penguins will miss Kris Letang in some ways.  In other ways the Penguins may be better off.  Either way, the worth of Kris Letang to the Penguins is much less than his value.  It's been a great ride but I'm afraid it's time to get off.

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