The 2017-18 division wasn’t a highlight for Kris Letang. Coming off of aloft close anaplasty which acquired him to absence the majority of the 2016-17 division and playoffs, the 31-year-old had an inconsistent 2017-18 season. At times, he looked like the amateur who anchored the Penguins’ aegis to the 2016 Stanley Cup but at others, he looked lost. A notable moment was during Bold 5 of the Penguins’ second-round alternation adjoin the Washington Capitals aback he larboard Jakub Vrana unchecked, acceptance him to account the ambitious ambition in the third period.
For best of his 11 NHL seasons, Letang has been the Penguins’ cardinal one defenseman and is amid the best at his position. He’s accomplished top-ten in Norris Trophy voting bristles times – including a third-place accomplishment in 2013 and fourth abode in 2016 – while showcasing an abhorrent adeptness akin by few rearguards.
On the added side, Letang has been criticized because of his addiction to about-face the bogie over, his arresting miscues, cap hit and abrasion history. The eight-year, $58 actor contract he active in 2013 carries a cap hit of $7.25 million, ninth amid NHL defensemen. There are a cardinal of earlier and beneath advantageous players such as Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien aloft him in boilerplate anniversary amount (AAV). While his abrasion history and arresting lapses account problems, the acceptable about outweighs the bad aback it comes to Letang.
For what affidavit will Letang animation aback in 2018-19 and why should there be account for concern?
Letang’s abhorrent adeptness was axiomatic from his time with Val-d’Or of the QMHL, area he acquaint 152 credibility in 170 amateur over three seasons, but his numbers didn’t anon construe to the NHL. During his aboriginal three-plus seasons in Pittsburgh, Letang had aloof 79 credibility in 219 games. He did this while arena mostly additional brace account and on the additional adeptness comedy unit, as credible by his 20:07 time on ice per d (TOI). It wasn’t until the abandonment of the Penguins’ longtime top apostle Sergei Gonchar afterward the 2009-10 division that Letang began to breach out as an abhorrent star.
In 465 amateur aback the alpha of the 2010-11 season, Letang has recorded 358 credibility (75 goals, 283 assists) while averaging 25:16 TOI per d as the Penguins top rearguard. Letang’s point-total is sixth amid defensemen and is college than Ducan Keith (346), Drew Doughty (336), Victor Hedman (344) and John Carlson (327) admitting arena a minimum of 87 beneath amateur than the players mentioned. He additionally leads Penguins blueliners in credibility over the aftermost eight seasons. Paul Martin—who hasn’t played in Pittsburgh aback 2014-15—is additional with 109 credibility in 297 games.
By season, actuality are his point totals and credibility per d averages:
Letang’s playoff assembly has additionally been amid the best in the d in the aforementioned amount with 57 points—12 goals and 45 assists—in 76 games, one point abaft the Chicago Blackhawks’ Keith who’s played 11 added games. His .75 credibility per d rank aboriginal amid blueliners who’ve played at atomic 25 games.
Here are those numbers:
Letang’s 51 credibility in the approved division (18th amid defensemen) and 11 credibility in the playoffs (fourth) were beheld as a bottomward division for him. A bottomward division isn’t absolutely the actual term, it was added of a account of two seasons.
Letang was a blend through best of the seasons aboriginal bisected both offensively and defensively. It would be one acceptable game, one bad game, and his aggregation acquainted the furnishings of it. On Jan. 1, the Penguins were 17th in the alliance in goals for with 109 (2.73 per game) and had surrendered the third-most goals in the alliance at 127 (3.18 per game). It had the aggregation in crisis of missing the playoffs as they sat seventh abode in the Metropolitan Division with a 19-18-3 record. Aback in February, THW’s Mike Necciai wrote about the rollercoaster that was Letang’s division and acicular out a audacious affair from his aboriginal half.
He’s a guy that you appetite demography affairs because of his adeptness to accomplish so abundant off the blitz and balance quickly, but that wasn’t the case throughout the aboriginal bisected of 2017-18. In added words, he wasn’t Kris Letang.
After New Years, Letang began to be added constant and it helped the Penguins about-face their division around. The aggregation denticulate 161 goals (3.84 per game), the best in the alliance and cut their goals adjoin to 121 (2.88 per game), 19th in the league. The improvements helped the Penguins column the fourth-best almanac in hockey (28-11-3) during the additional bisected to assure a playoff atom for the 12th afterwards season.
While inconsistent aftermost year, Letang was still the agent that fabricated the Penguins breach move. In 1,442 account at five-on-five, the Penguins had a CF% of 55.07 and FF% of 55.18 with him on the ice, ninth and seventh amid defensemen (with at atomic 1,000 five-on-five minutes) respectively. At aerial danger, the Penguins had 319 attempt attempts with Letang on the ice, fifth amid blueliners and his HDCF% of 54.53 ranked him 18th. He was additionally on the ice for 767 scoring chances, aboriginal amid defensemen and additional amid all skaters (Connor McDavid was aboriginal with 775), while his iSCF of 103 was 18th amid defensemen.
Only two of 14 players who spent 100 or added account with Letang, (Riley Sheahan and Tom Kunhackl) had a CF%, FF% or SCF% beneath 50 percent. Essentially, you could put any aggregate of players on the ice with Letang and they’d acceptable net absolute ascendancy numbers.
Letang’s amount admitting a bottomward division was apparent, and he was the baton amid Penguins defensemen in Goals aloft backup (GAR), which measures how abounding goals a amateur adds to his aggregation about to a backup akin player. Here’s how he ranks amid all NHL defensemen in GAR, and the breakdown of his value offensively and defensively at five-on-five.
Despite how admired he is, Letang was on the ice for 76 goals against at five-on-five, compared to aloof 54 goals for. Just the third time in his career he’s been on the ice for more goals against than for. It’s a significant difference from his xGF of 69 and xGA of 55.
What happened? Allotment of it has to do with Letang’s comedy in his own end but the axial accusation can be placed on the Penguins’ goaltending. His on-ice save allotment (on-ice SV%) of .887 was the affliction amid defensemen and additional affliction amid all skaters. For context, in 2015-16 and 2016-17, Letang’s on-ice SV% hovered about the .920 mark at five-on-five and has been adequately constant for a majority of his career.
It isn’t fair to accusation Letang for a awful year from Penguins goalies. As the three currently on the agenda (Casey DeSmith, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry) acquaint a five-on-five SV% of .913. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, that cardinal was .930 and .926, respectively. Suffice to say, it was an aberration and Letang’s numbers should acknowledgment to accustomed with a acceptable division from Murray.
The team‘s top bond of Letang and Brian Dumoulin felt the misfortune of the Penguins goaltending last season. The two controlled 54.7% of the attempt attempts in 1069 account together, fifth amid pairings that played over 800 account together.
Despite their able ascendancy number, they were on the ice for 54 goals against and aloof 42 goals for, a considerable aberration from their xGF of 49.98 and xGA of 41.88. Letang and Dumoulin ranked 17th in GF/60 with 2.36—their xGF/60 of 2.81 ranked fourth— and their GA/60 of 3.03 ranked 22nd, while their xGA/60 of 2.35 ranked 12th. All suggesting the pairing deserved a kinder fate than they received.
Here’s how the two ample up adjoin added pairings in agreement of attempt rates.
Another affair bodies point to is his turnovers and he has a cardinal of them, it looks worse on the apparent than it does in reality. Letang had 89 turnovers aftermost season, added than one per game, but he didn’t alike able the top 10 amid defensemen which included Keith Yandle, Brent Burns, Jake Gardiner, Jeff Petry, Aaron Ekblad, Carlson, P.K. Subban, John Klingberg, Mike Matheson and Ivan Provorov. It looks added like an All-Star aggregation than it does the about-face leaderboard.
Of those players, alone Burns, Yandle and Carlson played added account than Letang (2000:58). Additionally, he wasn’t alike the best turnover-prone amateur on his team, as Evgeni Malkin (2.96) and Sidney Crosby (2.69) both had a college i/GVA60 than Letang’s 2.67. Aback a amateur has constant ascendancy of the bogie and plays a high-risk, high-reward cast of hockey such as Letang does, turnovers will happen. Lastly, it wasn’t as if Letang didn’t booty the bogie abroad from his opponents, as his 53 takeaways were 12th amid defensemen, so he did balance from some of his mishaps.
As Adam Gretz of NBC Sports’ Pro Hockey Talk wrote in May, Letang has his faults but generally, he makes up for it.
It basically comes bottomward to this: He is activity to accomplish some mistakes, but as continued as the absolute plays outweigh the abrogating plays you accept to to booty the bad with the good.
Letang has a diffuse abrasion history and it’s arguably the best apropos history amid the team’s stars. He suffered a achievement at the age of 26 in aboriginal 2014, in accession to three diagnosed concussions, which includes two in four months during the 2011-12 division and a herniated disc in his close that appropriate surgery. Our Julia Stumbaugh affable added into Letang’s abrasion history aback in January of 2017.
He’s been on the accepting end of a cardinal of arguable hits in his career from Max Pacioretty’s bang hit that larboard him concussed in 2011, to Zac Rinaldo active him into the boards in 2015, to Shane Doan’s backward hit which concussed him backward in the aforementioned season, and Ryan Callahan’s hit from abaft during the 2016 Eastern Conference Final. It’s bright his anatomy has been through hell and back.
Of course, Letang isn’t the best bourgeois amateur and his lapses in acumen accomplish him accessible to alarming hits. While arch drillmaster Mike Sullivan has said in the accomplished that he doesn’t appetite Letang to change his appearance of play, he’d like him to stop accepting hit aback there’s no acumen for him to be in a accessible position.
“There adeptness be an acceptance that we’re aggravating to change the way ‘Tanger’ plays the game. That’s not what the bulletin has been to Kris,” Sullivan said. “It’s been added about authoritative added affected decisions on aback there artlessly isn’t a comedy to be made.”
It seemed to accept paid off aftermost division as Letang played 79 games, the best aback 2010-11, although it was aloof the fifth time in his career that he’s played over 70 amateur in a season. Durability isn’t his able suit, and it’ll acceptable abide to be a affair for the Penguins throughout the blow of his career.
Another account for concern is age. Letang turned 31 in late April, and it now starts placing him in the territory of a added accelerated abatement in play. Much like aggregate abroad in life, there are exceptions to the rule but usually, the boilerplate hockey amateur peaks around 25-26 and declines gradually until around age 30. As an amateur moves through their 30s they can artlessly activate experiencing a bluff bead in play. It’s something to watch out for as Letang gets added into his 30s, although, as an aristocratic level player, it’s absurd his decline will be as astringent as what a mid-tier player would about experience.
There are accepted affidavit to be anxious about Letang’s play. It’s accessible that the of his career is aloof a hardly bigger adaptation of what we saw aftermost season, compared to the aristocratic comedy of the aftermost 11 years. Although, there are a cardinal of affidavit to accept he will acknowledgment to his aristocratic anatomy in 2018-19.
One acumen is he’s now about 18 months removed from a aloft surgery. Another is he had a abounding and advantageous offseason for the aboriginal time in a continued time. Although there should be added than aloof achievement he bounces back. The Penguins charge Letang to accept a backlash division because they’re a bigger aggregation with him at his best. Letang’s the longtime ballast of their dejected line, as able-bodied as the key to the offense, it moves as he does.
The afterward is an archetype of how admired he is.
While the Penguins won the Cup afterwards him in 2016-17, they were added advantageous than good. Having Crosby and Malkin helps, but the Penguins were outplayed at five-on-five and lived off their adeptness play, bad goaltending from their opponents and their goalies arena at an aristocratic level. The aegis couldn’t get the bogie out to the assiduously and the aggregation was commonly ashore in their zone. This was on abounding affectation during Bold 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, as the Penguins went 37 account afterwards a attempt on goal. Their disability to move the bogie traced aback to the absence of Letang.
Only two players who played over 100 account in the 2017 playoffs—Chris Kunitz (51.21%) and Phil Kessel (50.16%)—were able to ascendancy alike bisected of the attempt attempts at five-on-five. The aggregation as a accomplished was out-attempted 1216 to 1042 at five-on-five. Aback Letang played 23 of 24 amateur during the 2016 run, thirteen players controlled over bisected the attempts, and the Penguins out-attempted teams 1215 to 1140 at five-on-five en avenue to the Cup.
Letang’s puck-moving adeptness and adroitness at both ends of the ice is an asset, as is his adeptness to eat account while advancement an aristocratic akin of play. A acknowledgment to that anatomy would acquiesce everybody on the dejected band to accelerate into a beneath ambitious role, benefitting the Penguins from top to bottom.
Being in top appearance would be the aboriginal footfall to a acknowledgment to form. Afterwards missing about eight months of training and d activity there were apropos Letang wasn’t up to abounding acceleration throughout the season, and he accepted to it afterwards the playoffs.
“I anticipation I was activity to be fine,” Letang said. “I anticipation I was activity to get over the bulge maybe in the aboriginal few weeks of the season. It didn’t appear that way. It took a little bit added time.”
He seems to be up to acceleration now, as he said aftermost week.
How does Kris Letang feel now compared to this time a year ago, aback he was abiding from close surgery? “A actor times better.”
— Matt Vensel (@mattvensel) September 11, 2018
Marc-André Fleury was accounting off during his time in Pittsburgh, Malkin’s been accounting off, alike Crosby was accounting off at one point. Each time they alternate to their aristocratic forms and Letang has added than becoming the appropriate to accompany them. Afterwards all, he’s already surpassed the expectations set for him afterwards actuality called in the third annular of the 2005 draft. As Necciai wrote aback in January 2016, Letang is irreplaceable to the Penguins.
My catechism for those that feel the Penguins should barter Kris Letang is simple; Who do you alter him with? The added allotment of that is how do you alter him for beneath money? His anniversary cap hit consistently seems to be the axial point of altercation but if you appetite a defenseman that can accord the way he can, you accept to pony up the banknote for them.
He isn’t the best amateur on the Penguins, but he is the best important one. If Crosby is out, Malkin is appropriate there to aces up the slack, and if Malkin is out, Crosby is there. Sure, Dumoulin and Justin Schultz are able of arena 25 account a night for a amplitude of games, but neither of them could do it for an absolute division and change the d the way Letang can.
Pending his health, and with the acknowledgment of some luck. Letang is activity to animation aback and it’s activity to accomplish the Penguins a difficult aggregation to comedy against.
*Advanced Statistics from Natural Stat Trick and Corsica.Hockey
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