The Letestu Question: Looking At The Roster

An interesting question developed in the game recap thread for last night's win at Dallas. Let's explore!

It was great to have Mark Letestu back in the lineup last night for the first time in 28 games, and he made his presence felt all over the place, including adding the late insurance goal to effectively ice it. In the game recap, we started to get into the weeds on Letestu and his impending UFA status this summer. Jordan Samson noted the following in the comments:

I know its just one game... But it just goes to show how valuable a guy like Letestu is. I am sure there will be a spot for him for at least a couple of more years, and I hope management feels the same way. Anyone else think that a guy like Wennberg could learn a lot from skating on his wing?My initial reply was as follows:

I find myself agreeing with you on his value, but wondering if, at this point in his career and as a pending UFA, he’s willing to take a one- or two-year deal. As I noted in the Foligno Extension thread, I don’t think they can sign him for five or six years, simply because there are so many guys coming up in that time frame that you can’t keep Letestu that long, but I have to think he’s looking for his last "big" contract this summer, as he’s turning 30 next month.That kind of got the ball rolling. There was talk of lineups, of who might be gone, who might be back, and prospects coming. Jordan came back with this:

Oh, I am sure you are right about wanting that contract to be of a good length, but from a management side, I could actually see them doing 3-4 years. My rationale is this: you have a solid player with veteran leadership and even wears the "A" from time to time. We do have a lot of prospects, but are not all certain to work out. If they do, great, that's a problem I/we would love to have. However, by keeping Letestu around, you have insurance should one, or more, falter in development. Also, and this is thinking way outside of the box, maybe one of those young guys gets you a great return in a trade. Our defense will need younger talent and Murray isn’t looking that promising, unfortunately.This got me going, and it became such a long reply that I elected to turn it into a post. Please note that the stuff below purposefully ignores the other position groups (goalie, defense), as that's another conversation for another time.

I totally agree with almost all of this. I don't want them to cut ties with Letestu this summer, not by any means. And, I certainly think the club may be willing to move someone like Cam Atkinson to make room for someone else; not saying I would do it, just a feeling I get. And now, with a guy like Morin making a spot for himself, there's one less space for a prospect, or a veteran fourth liner. (Again, I don't consider Letestu to be just a veteran fourth liner, but I felt the same way about DMac, and he's gone.)

Going into next season, the big question marks in the forward corps will be Matt Calvert, Atkinson, Jack Skille, Brian Gibbons, and Letestu, since they're all free agents (the first two RFA). I think Calvert's a lock to get a few more years, because he epitomizes what Todd Richards wants in a player. They let Skille walk once, and with the arrival and play of Jeremy Morin I suspect they will again. Gibbons is probably gone, because he's done next to nothing to earn a spot amidst this log-jam. In addition, while the team might be in position to trade a prospect, I think they value the three 2013 first rounders so highly that they won't be looking to move any of them unless a completely un-refusable offer comes along.

So, with those remaining two in mind, we would have (minus this year's rookies):

Scott Hartnell -- Ryan Johansen -- Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner -- Brandon Dubinsky -- Jeremy Morin
Matt Calvert -- Artem Anisimov -- ???
Corey Tropp -- ??? -- Jared Boll

Obviously, you could pencil in Atkinson and Letestu to those two spots, couldn't you? That said, I'm hopeful that the club has realized that they can't roll that kind of fourth line (with no offensive skill outside of Letestu) on a regular basis, and they will also most likely expect one or even two of the Alexander Wennberg / Kerby Rychel / Marko Dano triumvirate to make a push again next training camp. Wennberg and Rychel are the closest, so that gives you the lineup above with Wennberg, Rychel, Letestu and Atkinson all in the mix, with the last two needing contracts.

That said, we must also consider NEXT summer, too, because in my mind keeping Letestu for two seasons would be a no-brainer, but as I noted in my initial comment I'm wondering if he isn't looking for a few more years on top of that. Anisimov is a free agent after next season, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get traded sometime between now and next trading deadline. I love his game, but he just can't stay healthy, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved to make room for a few more years of Letestu, who can play center on the third line and play on special teams just as well as Anisimov. Next summer also includes free agency for Jenner, Morin, and Tropp, all of whom will be RFAs. If I had to make a wager now, I would wager that Anisimov will not be on the team for the start of the 2016-2017 season.

In addition, as you no doubt know, I will drive Corey Tropp to the airport when his contract is up. Really, it's no bother. And, I think by that point in time the club will be ready to move on, too. Jenner obviously isn't going anywhere, and I think Morin--barring a huge regression/collapse next season--probably gets a nice two-year extension as well. So, with all of this in mind, here's what the forward corps looks like at that point and under these assumptions:

Hartnell -- Johansen -- Foligno
Jenner -- Dubinsky -- Morin
Calvert -- ??? -- ???
??? -- ??? -- Boll

In orbit: Atkinson, Letestu, Wennberg, Rychel, Dano

There could also be other prospects in orbit by then, such as Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Josh Anderson. But, those five are the most likely guys in the discussion. This also doesn't account for any potential moves in free agency or trade, but the FA class this summer is pretty weak sauce.

So, where does all of this leave us? My gut tells me (and I'm not basing this on any kind of information or chatter, just my gut) that Atkinson is getting moved. I think we've also seen of late that Alexander Wennberg will be able to play center consistently in the NHL beginning next season, and depending on Anisimov's future he may get that chance. Rychel didn't look out of place, and with a full year (or two) of the AHL under his belt he should be here.

So, there could be space for Letestu longer than a year or two. Consider this, with the assumptions above:

Hartnell -- Johansen -- Foligno
Jenner -- Dubinsky -- Morin
Calvert -- Wennberg -- Rychel
??? -- ??? -- Boll

Could Dano be on the fourth line? I don't know. I think Josh Anderson could, with his size and drive. Either way, I think there's a spot for Letestu for more than a couple of seasons. I still don't think he gets a long-term deal a la Foligno and Dubinsky, but I think he could be here for the next three or four years. It really all depends on what the FO thinks as they look at the next two off-seasons and how this team will take shape.

What do you all think?

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