During the offseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a huge decision to make on defenseman Kris Letang. In the long run, GM Ray Shero signed the 26-year old to an eight-year, $58 million contract. Here is the interesting part: it was reported that Letang wanted a no-trade clause, but Shero was against it. This led many to speculate that last year’s Norris Trophy finalist could be dealt if needed.
Let’s face it, Letang has been having a rough year on the defensive side. And to be honest, he is not one of the league’s elite defensemen unless you are simply looking at offensive statistics. Sure he can skate, he has speed and the offensive skill. However, this leads to one of the many reasons why the Penguins are better off turning Letang into a forward.
Think of the possibilities. Letang could skate on the top line alongside his longtime buddy Sidney Crosby. They definitely have chemistry and it could prove to be a worthy move being that Pascal Dupuis is out for the season.
So far this year, Letang has nine goals in 28 games. Imagine what his numbers could look like as a right winger. He is a right-handed shooter, which is something that Pittsburgh is always in search of at the trade deadline every year. He can play with an edge, drop the gloves if needed and score a lot of pretty goals as he used to years back when he was head coach Dan Bylsma‘s no. 1 pick for shootouts.
Another reason why this is an advisable move is because of the depth the Penguins have at the blue line despite the injuries. When Letang was out, Pittsburgh was also missing Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi. Yet the Wilkes–Barre/Scranton products they threw out there looked just as solid, if not better during that stretch.
Orpik and Scuderi are now back from their injuries, and it is only a matter of time before Martin makes his return to the ice after missing almost two months with a broken leg. When that happens, the Penguins will be forced to sit someone if they keep Letang paired up with Scuderi. Chances are it will be Robert Bortuzzo, but he is playing like a 10-year veteran this season despite only having 50 NHL games under his belt.
If Letang were to change positions, Pittsburgh could still have their top shutdown unit in Orpik and Martin; Scuderi could skate with Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen could pair up with Bortuzzo. Here is the scary part: the Penguins still have two solid D-men in Derryk Engelland, who has been serving as a fourth-line winger, and Simon Despres, who plays a similar game as Letang. As you see, the options are there.
Many teams in today’s NHL are making this move with defensemen. The Winnipeg Jets for one have recently switched Dustin Byfuglien to forward, the San Jose Sharks have done the same with Brent Burns and even the Boston Bruins are known to throw big Zdeno Chara in front of the net on the power play.
Lastly, Letang is a subpar defenseman in this league. His offensive mentality over the last couple years has really hurt this team, showing that he is more of a liability than he is an asset on defense. He is constantly out of position, forcing plays that just are not there, turning the puck over and serving more as a winger. So why not make his dream come true?
This is something that should be closely considered by Dan Bylsma and his staff. Not only do they have plenty of defensemen to replace him, but those players are better at the position. On top of that, they will truly get their money’s worth out of him by making this change.
It is true that management may trade him for a winger before making this radical change, especially since Shero did not give in to the no-trade clause. Some may wonder if this was a sign for a blockbuster trade in the future, but then again Bylsma’s favorite phrase as a coach is “Why not?” — so why not roll the dice here in an experiment that could keep No. 58’s jersey off the discount rack in Pittsburgh?