The Vancouver Canucks have a pressing need for a top-pairing defenceman. With Kris Letang’s name floating around in trade rumors, should the Canucks pursue a trade for the three-time Stanley Cup champion?
As the Vancouver Canucks have learned, top-pairing defencemen in the NHL are very hard to find these days. When you think of Norris Trophy blueliners, only a handful come to mind — Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Victor Hedman, among a couple of others.
Chris Tanev is far-and-away this team’s top blueliner, but he’s often injured and doesn’t come with much offensive upside. There’s no doubting the Canucks’ weak link is their depth on defence, and general manager Jim Benning could sure use a No. 1 rearguard.
Could that mean Pittsburgh Penguins standout, Kris Letang? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in his “31 Thoughts” column that Letang has “surfaced” in trade rumors. But Pens’ reporter Josh Yohe had this to share:
But a Letang trade could be logical for the Penguins. He’s 30 years of age, has four years left on his contract at $7.25 million a season (per CapFriendly), and hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The Penguins have limited cap space, and could clear him so they can bolster their bottom-six, which was depleted with the losses of Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen in free agency.
So if general manager Jim Rutherford makes Letang available in a trade, should the Canucks pounce on it? Absolutely not. And here’s why.
The Canucks can easily clear up cap space to trade for Letang. The Sedins $14 million cap hits come off the books this summer. Even if they re-sign in Vancouver, you have to think they’ll take major hometown discounts.
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Right now, the Canucks can afford to take on his contract. But Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund (both pending RFAS), are due for raises at the end of the season. Ditto for Troy Stecher and Derrick Pouliot, and Brock Boeser hasn’t even signed a long-term extension yet.
Letang would provide a huge burden for the Canucks, and there’s no escaping the really bad Loui Eriksson contract.
If the Canucks were to trade for Letang, they’d be stuck with him. There’s no turning back, and it’s safer to keep that salary cap space for when they really need it most.
More risks than rewards
Letang is a game-changer when he’s on the ice. The problem is that he’s not always on the ice. He has a long injury history, having suffered a stroke, concussions, a herniated disk in his neck and an abnormal heart condition. He’s only 30 years of age, but to have that many injuries already is quite alarming and terrifying.
There’s no bigger problem for general manager than having a player who’s in is 30s, on a big contract and oft-injured. Look at how many games he’s missed over the years:
2016-17: 41 (plus the entire postseason)
And Letang does not come with much upside on defence. His Relative Goals for Percentage is a woeful -18.8, according to Corsica. His minus-15 rating also leaves a ton to be desired, and doesn’t do much to help the Canucks fix up the mistakes in their own zone.
Letang is a very good offensive defenceman, but the Canucks need guys who can play shutdown roles. With his remaining term, age, injury history and inconsistent play in his own end, the Canucks need to stay out of it. That is, unless the Penguins are willing to do a swap for Eriksson. And we know that isn’t happening.
*Stats via Hockey Reference unless otherwise noted*