With the trade deadline just days away, we continue to profile several players that have a good chance to be dealt by February 26th.
Mark Letestu has not had a good season. In fact, in many ways this is the worst season of his NHL career. However, when Trade Deadline season rolls around each year, experienced, versatile depth forwards on expiring contracts are consistently the most common type of player dealt. Letestu fits the bill, hence the rampant speculation that he will be traded. Like Letestu, the Edmonton Oilers have not had the 2017-18 campaign they expected and have no reason to keep Letestu and, based on his play this season, are likely eager to trade him to the highest bidder. This is not a question of if Letestu will be dealt, but when and to whom.
Letestu is in the final season of a three-year, $5.4MM contract signed with the Oilers in 2015. The deal holds a $1.8MM cap hit and no trade protections.
The 32-year-old Letestu is coming off a career-high 35 points in 2016-17. While he may not be an offensive juggernaut, Letestu has been the definition of reliable in his nine-year NHL career. He can play on the power play and penalty kill, excels at the face-off dot, and is hardly ever found taking a bad penalty. In 2017-18, he has continued to dominate the dot and play clean hockey; that’s about all he’s done right. Letestu has seen his offense disappear this season and, with it, his play time. He is currently on pace for 25 points this season, 10 fewer than last year and tied for the second-least of his career. Even worse, most of that production came earlier in the season. Letestu recorded 16 of his 18 points prior to the new year and is currently on a 24-game goal-less streak, with just two assists to show for the last two months. To qualify that lack of impact on the score sheet, consider that Letestu is still averaging more than two minutes per night on the power play as well. Between his significant power play and penalty kill time – despite no offense and a team-worst plus/minus – Letestu is left with under nine minutes a night of five-on-five time this season.
58 GP, 8 goals, 10 assists, 18 points, -16 rating, 10 PIM, 91 shots, 12:57 ATOI, 50.7 CF%
Despite a miserable season, there continues to be immense interest in Letestu. That is not to say that the Oilers will receive an immense return when they trade him, but there will be some competition driving up the price for a player that otherwise would be worth very little. Some teams may consider Letestu’s personal struggles a function of Edmonton’s poor season and hope for a bounce back to his 2016-17 level of play with a change of scenery. Others may just see him as a specialist and continue to use him as Edmonton does – power plays, penalty kills, face-offs, and little else.
Among the teams rumored to be interested in Letestu are the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Toronto Maple Leafs. He would fit well as an energy line or 13th forward on any of those teams. Other squads who could use another body up front include the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Boston Bruins, while several others are sure to do their due diligence on his availability as well. However, as The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline alluded to, the perfect fit for Letestu is likely back with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Letestu spent parts of four seasons in Columbus before signing with Edmonton, including arguably his best season in 2013-14. Not only that, but Portzline points out that Letestu and his family still call Ohio home. While too much stock is often put into familiarity when it comes to transactions and Letestu likely won’t have a say in his destination, the landing spot makes sense for other reasons as well. The Jackets are still fighting hard for a playoff spot and may not be willing to pay for a premium player with their playoff future still uncertain. Letestu will likely be more affordable and, as an added bonus, can jump right into the lineup, rejoining some past teammates and lending his experience to the many younger, newer Jackets forwards. More specifically, Columbus has also struggled greatly with special teams this season, sporting the league’s worst power play and a bottom-five penalty kill. They may have a better chance than anyone at giving Letestu an environment where he can rediscover his even strength game and scoring touch, but even if he doesn’t, he can at least help to rejuvenate the special teams.
Likelihood of a Trade
The likelihood of Letestu being traded is as close to 100% as any player on the block. The Oilers have absolutely no reason to keep him and there is high interest in his services. At some point over the next few days, Letestu will have a new home for the remaining months of the 2017-18 season.