Could and Should the Canucks Get Involved in the Letang Sweepstakes?

Thomas Drance
June 28 2013 11:37AM


Image via wikimedia commons.

Reading over Rob Rossi's excellent reporting over the past few days, it's really not too difficult to make out the writing on the wall. Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins have fundamental differences regarding Letang's value and with Letang rejecting an eight year, fifty-four million dollar contract extension offer from the Penguins on Thursday night, a separation seems nigh.

According to Rossi the Penguins would prefer to send Kris Letang to the Western Conference and are particularly enamored by "prospects with Anaheim and Vancouver" according to Rossi's sources. Wha? 

The Canucks are dealing with a critical scarcity of salary cap-space at the moment, and would need to essentially move heaven and earth to fit Kris Letang under the cap (and then do so again to fit his theoretically lucrative extension, which would kick in a season from now). Is acquiring Letang worth the cost in treasure and cap-space? Would he represent enough of an upgrade over the likes of Edler, Garrison, Bieksa and Hamhuis to warrant the Canucks blowing up their hard won "internal cap" for defenceman?

Let's look into it.

Why Kris Letang Makes Sense in Vancouver...

Kris Letang was a Norris nominee this past season, and richly deserved it. While Letang doesn't face the "toughest competition" in Pittsburgh according to our preferred "quality of competition" metrics, he does play in all situations and led all Pittsburgh blue-liners in time-on-ice per game a year ago (and for the last three seasons).

Most importantly, when Letang is on the ice the Penguins are significantly better than they are without him. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that "without Letang Pittsburgh will cease to be an elite offensive team," but I would probably describe Letang's presence as the nitrous which boosts the Penguins offensive engine into overdrive. 

Consider Letang's large sample with or without you numbers, for example. Since 2008-09, Kris Letang has spent 1272 even-strength minutes on the ice with Sidney Crosby and close to 1291 minutes with Evgeni Malkin. In Letang's 1272 minutes with Sid, the Penguins have outscored opponents by nearly two goals per sixty minutes while controling north of 56% of all attempted shots. When Sidney Crosby is on the ice without Letang the Penguins score nearly a goal fewer per sixty minutes, outscore their opponents by 1.4 goals per sixty minutes, and control 52% of shot attempts.

In other, simpler words: the Penguins are still an elite team with Crosby on the ice without Letang, but the Penguins are completely dominant when they're playing together.  Letang, I'd mention, has a similar impact on Evgeni Malkin's production and possession numbers.

Looking over the relationship between Henrik Sedin's production and the ice-time he's spent with specific defenceman over the past five seasons, the only player who comes close to impacting his numbers similarly is Christian Ehrhoff. That fact should not particularly surprising.

In close to 1000 even-strength minutes between 2008-2013, the Canucks outscored their opponents by 2.66 goals per sixty minutes with both Ehrhoff and Henrik on the ice together (a ridiculous number) and controlled 58% of all shot attempts (also ridiculous, albeit zone-start inflated). With Henrik on the ice without Ehrhoff over that span (a larger sample that nears 4500 minutes) the Canucks have out-scored opponents by less than half of that, while controling 56% of all shot attempts.

So Ehrhoff's impact on the Canucks offense from 2009-2011 was similar to Letang's in Pittsburgh over the past five seasons, except that Letang's numbers without Crosby are stronger than Ehrhoff's without Henrik (in part that's due to team effects and Ehrhoff playing on an awful Sabres club for two season accounted for by our sample). In other words, Kris Letang is a high-end version of Christian Ehrhoff who also excels in the shootout and has a right-handed shot for the power-play. Sounds pretty neat, eh?

Kris Letang is an elite offensive defenceman in the National Hockey League, and pairing him with a player like Jason Garrison, Alex Edler or Dan Hamhuis would be a tantalizing prospect. He'd also immediately fix Vancouver's right-handed shooters on the power-play issue, and arguably give the Canucks their first elite 1A defenceman in franchise history.

Stats in this section taken from stats.hockeyanalysis.com .

Why Kris Letang Makes No Sense in Vancouver...

Vancouver's top-four group of Bieksa, Garrison, Hamhuis and Edler is rock solid, and all of those players are on deals worth five million or less against the salary cap. Adding Letang for upwards of seven million per season just doesn't seem like an efficient allocation of resources unless you're moving one of those four players in a trade. 

Kris Letang is a pretty clear upgrade on Alex Edler, in my view, but in terms of marginal utility Edler is 90% of the player that Letang is and has way more physical upside. Oh yeah, and by the time Letang's contract extension is signed Edler will cost the Canucks only 66% as much against the salary cap. The marginal value just isn't there for the Canucks, especially when you factor in the cost in assets that it will take to outbid the likes of Edmonton and Anaheim for Letang's services (probably a player, a prospect and a first rounder).

As good as Kris Letang is - and I think he's exceptionally good - he's not a third-line centre or a scoring winger. Those remain the club's two biggest areas of need this summer, and that's where the Canucks need to focus their scant resources.

Conclusion...

Letang is an elite offensive defenceman, and his presence could certainly hurt the Canucks if he's shipped out to a conference rival like Edmonton or Anaheim. However, with the way this Canucks team is built currently, Kris Letang would be, I don't want to say redundant because Letang is a unique player, but somewhat superfluous.

The Canucks don't appear to have the cap-space necessary to swing a mega deal for a Kris Letang-type (unless Pittsburgh's buying on Luongo, which, yeah right). Anyway even if they did, they have more pressing concerns than adding another top-four defenceman - even one as dynamic as Kris Letang.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 BrudnySeaby
June 28 2013, 12:11PM
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For that kind of money that he is seeking, I would rather have Shea Weber on our team as a true 1A Defenceman and shut-down guy. Weber paired with Edler could just be the dream combo of first D-pairs; with top defensive and offensive quality combined!

Of course, if Pittsburgh is willing to trade Letang for Luongo, Ballard and a prospect, I think the Canucks should do it. Then they can flip Letang for some other player.

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#2 asdf
June 28 2013, 12:17PM
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if in a crazy way this deal would happen wouldn't it be better to make letang a winger since the D is deep and the forwards aren't so much

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#3 Mantastic
June 28 2013, 12:22PM
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why are you guys calling Letang or Weber a 1A d-man? they would both clearly be #1 here and it's not even close.

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#4 The Voice In The Dark
June 28 2013, 12:33PM
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I see Letang as an upgrade on Ehrhoff - high offensive ability, would most likely help the Sedins and the PP, but a bit weak defensively and would definitely need to be paired with a responsible shut-down partner.

Worth the price to acquire him, and then after signing him, the money and cap hit? Doubtful on all three counts. There are going to be a lot of regretful GMs in a few years with the monster contracts that are going to go to Letang, Bickell, Clarkson, etc. I hope Vancouver stays far, far away from those guys.

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#5 NM00
June 28 2013, 12:50PM
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I assume the Canucks would only give up the assets needed to acquire Letang if they were assured he would sign a contract extension.

For argument's sake, let's say he accepts 8/60 to play in Van City. The cap appears to be going up again in 2014-2015, though Hank and Danny will likely need raises assuming they stay in Vancouver.

If Pittsburgh is actually interested in trading with Vancouver, I have to believe Edler would be the asking price.

A poo poo platter of our prospects isn't anywhere near enough.

So, would the Canucks be better with Edler at 6/30 over Letang at 1/3.5 followed by 7/60?

If we consider Letang to be a better defenseman than Edler while also giving the team a nice balance of left and right shot defenseman, it might make sense.

As for the defenseman cap structure, who cares? The Canucks don't have a young impact defenseman that needs to be locked up in the near future. That would be the only reason to care about the structure.

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#6 Rob
June 28 2013, 12:53PM
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@Mantastic

Because nobody talks about #1, #2, #3 etc. dmen, they talk about 1st pairing, 2nd pairing, 3rd pairing, i.e., the 1 in 1A is not a ranking among dmen, but refers to the 1st pairing. The Canucks arguably have more than one 1st pairing quality dman, but none of them really should be headlining the 1st pairing.

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#7 Mantastic
June 28 2013, 02:18PM
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@Rob

but Letang and Weber surely would headline the 1st pairing and would log the biggest amount of ice time. numbering comes from the amount of ice time logged relative to the rest of the team, and Weber and Letang clearly would be #1's on any team, especially the canucks.

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#8 Ruprecht
June 28 2013, 03:22PM
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As a rental he makes sense. I just can't see us being anxious to get back into major cap trouble resigning him. He didn't overly impress me against Boston, but then a lot of Pens fall into that boat. Still for the cost, a lot of money plus an asset, we could better spend where we desperately need the help...up front.

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#9 Dan
June 28 2013, 04:48PM
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Great breakdown as always TD -glad you came around on Ehrhoff its a strong comparison --unfortunately your argument hinges on a claim "Edler IS 90 % the D of KL- how do you supportvthis claim? --All my research shows that Edler does not sig. Drives possession % stats-- in addition Edler IS at best average def.- So by a rough comparision KL IS clearly better off. And better d and inferior physically and perhaps equal on PP -it would take a while to prove BUT Edler is T best a c+ or approx 65% the d that KL -IS SO its IMJ - a push with rightanded factor AND sybergy of imp.with Sedins making it a good move! --

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#10 5mintuesinhebox
June 29 2013, 12:17AM
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@NM00

Chris Tanev

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#11 5minutesinthebox
June 29 2013, 12:24AM
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Would Pittsburgh consider a Luongo and Edler for Letang and Fleury?

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#12 Josh
June 29 2013, 01:27AM
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@NM00

"The cap appears to be going up again in 2014-2015, though Hank and Danny will likely need raises assuming they stay in Vancouver."

Really? With declining production and the team not exactly in the best position cap-wise, I should certainly hope not. What they've done is great, but you can't go handing out contracts for past performance. Looking at their comparables on cap geek, it's not as if they're some steal of a price anymore. Maybe during the art ross years, but those feel like they're a long time ago. I don't expect them to get back to 90-100 points/year, that's for sure.

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#14 JCDavies
June 29 2013, 02:04AM
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@Josh

Agreed, unless they go to separate teams, I don't see the Sedins getting raises either. I can't see any team committing more than $12 million/season for two 34 year old forwards.

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#15 Eric Blacha
June 29 2013, 10:49AM
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Why wouldn't PIT be interested in Luongo? Fluery seems like he's taken 3 steps backwards, and does Voukon actually have the ability to play all the games for them? I'd wager they could use an upgrade

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#16 NM00
June 29 2013, 01:52PM
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5mintuesinhebox wrote:

Chris Tanev

Haha good one.

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#17 NM00
June 29 2013, 01:54PM
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@Josh

The cap is much higher now than when the Sedins signed their soon-to-expire 5 year deals.

Yes they are getting older and their production will decline. It doesn't mean they are going to take paycuts considering the market for first line forwards.

I'm not saying it will work out well for Vancouver. But what is the alternative? Rebuilding altogether?

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