Pens Preview: Kris Letang

Kris Letang. Wow. Just…wow. I remember watching him over the course of the season and now looking over his stat lines I am purely mystified by Letang’s season. I am going to do my best to write objectively, but I want to outline some of my biases regarding Kris Letang. I was disappointed in his play down the stretch. I know I am not alone in being a little disappointed with his play, both offensively and defensively, as the year went on. I was also grossly offended by Letang’s play on PP for the 2nd half of the season. Those were my major bugaboos. That said, I liked a LOT of what I saw out of Letang  and hope to see him continue to develop (remember, this will only be Letang’s 5th full-season with the club) and do things the right way.

With that all said and out-of-the-way, I give you Kris Letang’s 2010-2011 season:

Wait, whoops. Wrong film.

Using the Youtube test, you wouldn’t know that Kris Letang actually plays hockey, least of all defense. The first 8 or so videos are all of him giving interviews and funny features because he’s so dreamy. I get it. He’s a handsome fella. I’m confident enough in myself to admit when another man is handsome. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but different strokes for different folks. Really, though, for looking for hockey plays, Youtube isn’t all that kind to him. One of the featured videos is his “fight” with Travis Zajac. I’ve got a few videos, though. We’ll have a good time. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

82 GP, 8 G, 42A, 50 P, +15, 101 PIM, 236 S, 3.4% S%, 4PPG, 20PPA, 0SHG, 1 SHA, 2GWG, 24:02 TOI

The positive side of the stats – Letang played all 82 games this season, ranking 3rd in the NHL. He also played all 7 games in the playoffs. Well, “played” and “being a warm body wearing a skating penguin” are different terms. For right now, we’ll just say he played every game all season. A huge feat and good on him for doing so. Playing the Pens style of play and being a top-pairing defender is hard work and to do so for every game this season, I must tip my hat to Mr. Letang. A job well done.

Equally positive, he finished the season a plus player for the second time. He finished 2009-2010 with a +1 rating. That greatly improved to a +15 this year. 25 of Letang’s 50 points came even strength, helping showcase the + rating as even more impressive. For the sake of comparison (mentioned in Michalek’s write-up), James Wisniewski finished the season with 51 points but a laughably bad -14 rating. While there are obvious differences between the team and talent that both Letang and Wis have to play with, the concept of them being almost mirrored in opposite directions is stunning. It becomes even more stunning when you realize that Wisniewski was just signed to a contract of $5.5M and Letang is on the second year of a four-year contract at $3.5M. For two million dollars less, Letang put up the same point total and was a net +29 compared to Wisniewski. Advantage Shero.

Letang did take a large number of penalties this past year. With 101 PIM, he nearly doubled his previous season’s record of 51, which doubled that previous season’s record of 24. Deserved or otherwise, Letang needs to take better penalties. Sometimes taking the penalty when you are the only man back and have to take a tripping or interference call to prevent a scoring chance is a good penalty. He did take more of the”good” penalties, but he took a ton of bad penalties to. He also was victimized by incredibly poor officiating and not having any benefit of the doubt because of playing on the same team as Matt Cooke, as we all remember how ludicrous this penalty call was:

No rest for the team which employs a villain such as Cooke. Steigerwald says about “giving the benefit of the doubt” to the officials, and I would agree IF the officials consistently and league-wide called for a zero-tolerance (even though this was a magnificent play and I like seeing these types of plays) on hits to the head (this wasn’t and it was obvious). Instead, Letang was ejected from the game and assessed penalties for playing hockey. Herein lies the debate about banning all contact to the head and how it will soften the game. I, personally, am supportive of an OHL style banning of all hits to the head, intentional, blind side, and otherwise. I like the idea of leaving a little wiggle room in the discipline, but ALL hits are penalized in some manner. Mandatory 2-minute minor with some discrepancy by the officials for majors, misconducts, and match penalties. In a case such as this, Letang would be given a minor (based on what the ref saw) and Josh Bailey would also be serving the minor for roughing. Upon discussion with other officials and/or seeing a replay, the official would have no cause to assess anything more than a two-minute minor. Instead, we are left with a broken system that allows (and encourages) hitting players in the head if they can be expected to see you and if you are in a “hitting zone.” The NHL and NHLPA need to get serious about this and they have done precisely the opposite.

The other important fact that we are overlooking in that video is that Blake Comeau sucks.

As far as point production went, well, there’s where Letang’s season became interesting. Putting 8 goals on the board over the season is admirable for any defenseman. Doing so when so much offense is generated by the D is a little less impressive. Putting up 8 goals when you are the primary quarterback of the power play is abysmal. Just looking at “8 goals and 41A” is misleading, though. The assist stat is HUGE. Putting up 41A, 20 of which came on the PP, is a great number and should be celebrated. Well, it should be considering that 18 of those 20 PPAs came with Sid, Geno, or both in the line-up. That still means he was able to put…2 PPAs on the board without…Sid or Geno.

Wait, what? You mean Crosby and Malkin are important to the PP and the general offensive output? Why I never!

Obviously the PP was a sore spot for Pens fans this season. Is Letang the answer? Honestly, I don’t know. Trying to live up to Gonchar’s legend on the PP is difficult for anyone. There will be a discussion on the PP and what can and cannot be done another time, but for now we’ll roll with what we have on the roster, and Letang is our top PP guy. When looking at the point production on the PP, it becomes clear just how important Sid and Geno are to the success of the PP and how integral it is to have a guy like Letang on top of his game manning the point. Beginning on 1/6 (the first game in the no-Crosby era) and ending in Atlanta, when Mike Comrie scored his only goal of the year, Letang’s PP numbers went as follows: 2G, 9A. He put up 11 points without Sid (and eventually without Geno). Obviously the production dropped off, but not as much as one might think. I believe it was largely due to no 87 or 71 on the ice to finish off the scoring chances AND because of Letang’s terri-bad shooting. We all laugh and joke about Letang’s shooting accuracy, but I lost the ability to laugh as the season went on. It’s one thing if you can’t shoot straight (in my playing days I had a terrible shot) but it doesn’t matter because you aren’t expected to. It’s a whole different beast if you are expected to get pucks on net or at least in the general vicinity. Taking wild shots that swing around the glass and end boards only to be cleared easily is not a means of success.

We all have to dig deep into our memory banks, but try to think back to when Letang was awesome on the PP and we had Sid and Geno just doing their thing. Did you find it? No, well, let’s jog your memory:

My God. I remember. Look at the play by Letang – making a risky, but incredibly skilled play to keep the puck in the zone, didn’t take a wild shot, cut through the middle and dished it off to Sid. Pavelec just couldn’t do anything. He gambled on challenging Letang but left the next open to a bearing down tandem of Sid and Geno. Letang doesn’t make the pass and we all forget about this play. He made the smart play, using his skill to help the team, and he was a beast. Having Sid and Geno help, too. 18 of 20 PP points came with Sid or Geno not on IR. Without cross referencing the game-by-game stats (perhaps shortsighted on my behalf), I think we can assume the majority of those points come from Sid and Geno being unreal.

Goal scoring. That’s right, I said it. Goal scoring. Kris put up 8 goals. Not bad, but not great, given the opportunities he had. More importantly, as the PP quarterback and shooter from the point, he only put up 4 PPG. That means his even strength goals and PP goals were equal. He was almost completely equal in PP points and even-strength points. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, again, given his skill set AND being given an average of 4:28 per game of PP time, the numbers should be a little higher. In 08-09, Letang had his best year with 10 goals (but only had 23 assists). This was his best season in points and assists, and his second best in goal scoring. Oddly enough, he wasn’t as weak as we thought, at least statistically.

In February, March, and April combined Letang only had 9 total points. That is inexcusable under any circumstances. It either means he cannot handle the responsibility of contributing offensively as an “offensive defenseman.” I disagree with him being labeled as a purely offensive guy because of the great improvement in his defensive game. Either way, I think he knows he needs to be better, both on the PP and even-strength regarding shooting accuracy and not killing offensive zone time by taking poorly placed shots. When you take 236 shots and only get 8 goals, there’s no longer a discussion or debate.

Defensively, I liked Letang’s game for most of the season. Oh, there were times his defense made me want to rip out my hair and the hair of everyone around me, but he generally was better than the year before, and it’s nice to see that. The +15 rating greatly helps, too. By month, Letang was +8, +4, +7, +3, -9, +0, +2. Outside of February in which he put up a -9 (and we need not remember just how painful February was with no Sid, losing Geno, etc). In Pens victories, Letang was a combined +38 and in combined losses he was a -23. Much like Michalek, there’s something to be said about being involved.In only 4 games all season was Letang a + player and the team lost. The Pens went 32-21 when Letang was neutral in +/-, and were 4-17 when a minus player. Not shockingly, when one of your top-4 defenseman is a plus player the team wins more games than they lose. Who ever would have guessed?

There were times, though, when I wanted to reach through and grab that little stain the hair and smack him around.

What the eff? I don’t even want to think about that play. Moving on.

There were some times, especially down the stretch, when Letang just simply would give up on the play. That doesn’t cut it in juniors. It certainly doesn’t cut it at the NHL. Can’t seem to find any of those on Youtube (go figure), but there were times he would lose his man or just flat quit skating and he’d stand there and watch the opposition score. Perhaps the drag of the season and playing every game had an impact on him. Hell, I can barely dig a hole for a few hours a day without needing rest. He’s out there playing like a maniac and getting punched in the face all the while. Still, if he was feeling tired he should have said he needed a rest. A rested Letang at 80% is much better than a proud Letang at 40%.

Sadly, if you plotted just about all stats of Letang’s on a scatterplot/number line/etc, things would go up through December and then just kinda float back down to disappointment by April.

What can we expect out of the dreamiest player? Well, it’s hard to tell. Assuming Sid and Geno are healthy and Paul Coffey come in to school Danny Bylsma on the PP this Summer, I think we can expect some great things. I also happen to think Letang is potentially the big name possibly -possibly- on the trade block. I don’t expect him to go at the deadline, but if another GM is willing to give up huge assets in exchange, I don’t think Shero will turn down the deal.

Like the others, I expect the following from Kris next season (and this, again, is based on nothing but supposition):

78GP, 12G, 45A, 57P, +13, 88PIM, 201S, 6%, 8PPG, 27PPA, 0SHG, 0SHA, 3GWG, 25:17TOI

I’m gonna lay it down right now – assuming Letang can stay healthy and do his thing without trailing off once the new year rolls around, he will be a Norris finalist. This year he was an All-Star. Next year he’ll be a Norris Finalist.

17 thoughts on “Pens Preview: Kris Letang

Add yours

  1. Initially I was upset with you for posting Willow Smith’s ridiculous song, but then you said “The other important fact that we are overlooking in that video is that Blake Comeau sucks.” and all was forgiven. Nice post.

    1. Heh. I was actually debating with just posting the Willow Smith video as the entire preview and seeing how much hate mail I got.

      Yeah, the Blake Comeau line I am genuinely proud of. I thought it was hilarious. Glad you liked it.

  2. I think Letang tried to do too much after Sid and Geno were out, and Ihe ended up hitting a wall.

    I don’t see how Letang would be the high profile player on the trading block. Why would Shero give up his Norris caliber All- Star $3.5 mil/year player? Letang hasn’t even hit his prime yet. Bylsma was even quoted at the end of last season as saying that as good as Letang is, he is not even half way to where can be – he can go to another level down the road.

    Shero said that Letang is a guy they are going to continue to build around.

    1. Oh, I agree, I just see it being one of those “if someone offers up an unbeatable deal and Letang is having another up-and-down type of year” type situations. If someone is willing to grossly overpay AND Letang is fading down the stretch, I could see it. I don’t expect it, but I could see it.

    2. I didn’t think they would trade Goose, either, but that happened. I never thought we’d be able to pry Neal away from Dallas. Sometimes the hockey trades are the best all around. You have to consider – a guy like Despres will spend this season in WBS and likely be in PIT the year after. It almost makes a guy like Letang expendable.

      Again, I’d be shocked if he went, but I wouldn’t be knock-me-over-with-a-feather shocked if it did happen. Defensive depth is one of our strong suits. We’ll see where it goes.

  3. Let’s hope Letang has a whole season the way he began the season last year. By all accounts, and according to Bylsma, Letang is an incredibly hard worker and takes a lot of pride in his game. If you look back at Letang’s Junior years, he was captain of his World Junior gold medal team, has a long list of accolades, including the Emile Bouchard (best defenseman), Kevin Lowe (best defensive defenseman) and Paul Dumont (best personality). I see the Norris as a possibility in his future. It’s easy to forget, with all he’s accomplished, that his just turned 24 in April.

    1. Yep. I hope he is a beast and continues to develop and refine his game. He did have some moments of pure agony this past year (such as screening Fleury badly or giving up on a play), but those are all fixable. The PP discussion is just a whole different mess.

      I hopehopehope he has an unreal year. At the 3.5 cap hit he’s a steal. Offensively, he needs to get better at shooting accuracy. For realz I wish someone would give him the Wild Thing treatment from Major League and give him the hornrim glasses and suddenly he can hit a tuna can on the crossbar. The killing offensive zone time was hard to watch. It’s one thing to shoot without accuracy when you’ve got Sid and Geno to make magic happen around the net. It’s something else to have Letestu and Kennedy as your top players.

      Let’s hope for the best this year.

  4. Walt, again great job. I know Letang is a polarizing figure. This is Woo worthy once again.
    I like Letang’s attitude on the ice, but I think he needs to play a lot smarter. He often times is out of position because he’s angry? Also way too many dumb penalties for him (and others obviously). I hope he has a solid season, because I hate to see him go. Although he is probably going to command one hell of a salary when he hits the market.

    1. I really like the kid, he still needs more maturing (funny to say this about somebody who already won a cup)
      he has all the right tools and is a hard worker
      I can’t wait to see the pens play with a full healthy injury-free roster next season, DeY gOnNa FuCk ShIt Up

      great work walt!

    2. I’ve kinda said he’s on my short list this season. While he is a fantastic talent, I want him to be consistent and make his own plays, not rely on so many others. He has his worst game offensively and defensively when he doesn’t have Orpik to bail him out if he gambled wrong. When Orpik was out for that stretch last season Letang took a huge nosedive. He made the “smart” plays of not pinching nearly as much, but also wasn’t contributing on offense then…and compounded it by being badly out of position on defense, leaving Strait or whomever he was paired with with the burden of doing it all.

      I like that he added some snarl to his game. This is a team that genuinely lacks toughness and having some hard-hitting D will help with that. Yeah, the team hits a lot, but they need more heart and more rough-and-tumble guys to stick up for others. Sometimes they look too ball-less when it comes to dealing with opposing players, either refusing to put them on their wallet or allowing the pests to hit Sid, Geno, Staal, and run Flower without retribution.

      He is going to get biiiiig money if he goes to free agency. I think it all depends on Despres, Strait, Morrow, etc. If those guys are in the NHL (or are NHL-ready) in 3 years, you can say goodbye to Orpik and Letang.

  5. I still think Letang missed two or three games at the beginning of the season. didn’t he have something wrong with his hand? sdfksjfkj.

    that hit. i want to punch something after seeing that. total shoulder to shoulder contact. Comeau sucks. he dove worse than the Sedins. everyone can see you were hit on the shoulder, stop grabbing you head, dick. there are four officials on the ice, at least one of them must have seen the hit. i think if something like that happens then it should be looked over right then and there, kind of like a goal review. he obviously didn’t hit him on the head and he shouldn’t have been ejected from the game. grrrrrrr. okay, done ranting.

    Letang isn’t dreamy. his hair is gross. he isn’t even hot. i would take Michalek over Letang any day. fan girls are going to kill me.

    1. Well, according to the NHL and ESPN, he played all 82. According to the Pens site, he and Talbot were the only two to suit up for all 82 games. Oddly enough both also had 8 goals. Go figure.

      I think Comeau actually was concussed on the play, believe it or not. I think the way his head whipped back caused his brain to rattle around. I know, right? Whatever. He sucks.

      I think that may be a topic for a latter post – the role of head hits and what can be done about it (and why Rule 48 is ineffective).

      I can admit that I think Letang is a handsome fella, but he’s not for everyone. I would rather people focus on his play more than his hair, but it does get whipped back and forth, so, it gets the attention.

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