Could Letang get dealt?
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Q: Is there any chance that Kris Letang gets traded for an impact winger before the trade deadline? I know the Pens don't have a ton of salary-cap space, but Letang will probably get a fairly significant raise this off-season, even though he is only a restricted free agent. He would probably be a very valuable trading asset and we have other guys like Martin Skoula and Ben Lovejoy who could step in.
Scott Smith, Mechanicsburg
MOLINARI: Anything is possible, of course, and if the Penguins have a list of guys who are untouchable under any realistic circumstances, it probably is confined to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and maybe -- maybe -- Marc-Andre Fleury. The list of players who have little reason to worry about being traded is somewhat longer, and Letang is on it.
Mind you, if general manager Ray Shero would make it known that Letang was available, there'd be no shortage of teams interested. Of course, those clubs would be interested for the same reason the Penguins have no desire to deal Letang: He's a right-handed defenseman who skates well, has good offensive talent and should develop into an excellent two-way player. There just aren't that many young guys out there who fit that description.
The Penguins are trying to negotiate a new contract for Letang and, from all indications, talks to date have not been particularly productive. Both sides have some leverage -- Letang, as noted above, has some awfully attractive qualities, while the Penguins can match any offer another club would make to him -- but neither has a complete upper hand, so this isn't something that figures to be resolved quickly.
While the Penguins obviously could use a goal-scoring winger or two for their top two lines, they already have a couple of guys, Luca Caputi and Eric Tangradi, on their depth chart who could fill such a role in coming seasons. They don't have another right-handed defenseman with Letang's skills set, which is why it seems almost out of the question that they'd deal him. Not until any hope of working out a contract would be exhausted, anyway, and that's not something likely to happen for a long time.
And while Skoula has performed admirably when called upon this season, and Lovejoy acquitted himself well when summoned to the NHL earlier this season, neither could take over Letang's spot without a significant decline in productivity.
Q: I know chemistry is important on a team and the Penguins certainly seem to have that. But with the call-up of Caputi and plugging him in right away on Malkin's line, do you think that could lead to grumbling, at least privately, by other players who believe they deserve a shot on the top two lines? We know what max Talbot did in that spot last spring and Michael Rupp certainly didn't look out of place playing as a top-six forward earlier in the year.
Del Scott, Savannah, Ga.
MOLINARI: That you're mentioning Talbot and Rupp as viable candidates to assume a top-six role underscores the shortage of legitimate goal-scorers the Penguins have to play on the wings of their first two lines.
Talbot, when healthy, can be plugged in almost anywhere, at least in the short term, and Rupp has had a terrific first three months with the Penguins, but if not for limitations imposed by the salary-cap ceiling, neither would turn up in the conversation about who should be considered for a spot alongside Crosby or Malkin.
Caputi, conversely, has the potential to develop into a pretty consistent goal-scorer at this level, and the Penguins have projected him as a possible top-six guy for quite a while. He figured to get another audition at this level sometime in 2009-10; Chris Kunitz's need for abdominal surgery simply got him here a little earlier than he might have otherwise.
NHL players have healthy egos, of course -- that's a trait found in most people at the top of any profession -- and most probably believe that they could handle an expanded role well if given the opportunity. At the same time, there's no reason to believe any of Caputi's teammates resent him moving into such a prominent role when he recalled earlier this week.
First Published January 8, 2010 12:00 am