There are reports from RDS and elsewhere that Kris Letang has reached a deal with the Penguins to keep him in town another eight years. For $7,250,000.00 each season player 58 will be on the ice for the foreseeable future.
This contract makes him the third highest paid defenseman in the NHL and in the 2014-15 season stands to make him the 13th highest paid player in the NHL. The question is why? Is he offensively gifted? Sure. He also plays in a nearly pure offensive system with two of the best playmakers in the NHL, and a couple 30 goal men too. When you have six, or seven highly talented forward to pass the puck to or serve as decoys when you shoot, scoring is a bunch easier. Even with that level of production in front of him, he’s still just over half a point a game for his career in the regular season at .54ppg.
Also to be considered is his injury history. Since breaking into the NHL during the 2006-7 season, he has only played the full season once. His litany of injuries includes concussions and numerous “lower body injuries”. As a guy whose whole game is predicated on his ability to move, those lower body injuries have to be worrisome.
By comparison, Drew Doughty who has turned into a legitimate two way defenseman is at .51ppg, and the comparisons between an offense that has been in the bottom third of the NHL most of Doughty’s career doesn’t even compare to the Penguins. Doughty also missed just 11 games in his career, won Olympic gold, and yet somehow the Penguins are paying Letang more.
Letang’s playoff performance has also been spotty at best. In the 2012-13 playoffs he was held pointless by the Boston Bruins as part of the team being swept. In the 2008-9 playoff run he put up a goose egg against the Carolina Hurricanes. The 2007-8 second season saw him held pointless against the Detroit Red Wings, The New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators. That’s fifty percent of crucial games where an offensive defenseman has failed to provide offense.
Another telling stat is his on ice save percentage. In this season, counting only the Penguins defenseman that played thirty or more of the forty eight games Kris Letang ranks dead last and by a wide margin. Letang’s on ice save percentage is in fact the only qualifying defenseman who’s numbers are worse than both team goalies. By comparison the Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara who Letang will now make more than has a OISvP of .930 to Letang’s .914, Montreal Candiens Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban owned a .926, and his teams goalies were significantly less average than Pittsburgh’s this season. The other Norris finalist this season was Ryan Suter who played with a rookie defensive partner much of the season (as did Chara) he laid claim to a .925.
Suter, Chara, Subban, and of course Doughty are demonstrably at least as productive at both ends of the ice as Letang, and all four are healthier, two of the four played more minutes than Letang and yet all will be paid less than the owner of Pittsburgh’s latest mega-contract.