Mark Letestu to Blue Jackets for 4th-Round Pick; Sidney Crosby Implications?

James ConleyContributor IIINovember 8, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 30: Mark Letestu #10 of the Pittsburgh Penguins controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during a preseason game at the United Center on September 30, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Penguins defeated the Blackhawks 4-2.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It was confirmed by TSN's Bob McKenzie late Tuesday the Pittsburgh Penguins had shipped center Mark Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a fourth-round pick in next summer's draft.

Letestu has been the center of trade talk for a few weeks. Last year's training camp surprise managed to turn in only one assist in 11 games so far this season. His minus-six rating is second-worst among Penguins forwards, and he has at times been a healthy scratch.

Letestu's role as a lower-line center has been amply filled by Joe Vitale and Richard Park. Both Vitale and Park have been valuable in special teams play in addition to even-strength situations, while Letestu has struggled in all areas of his game.

Vitale, one of the players who has ostensibly made Letestu expendable, turned a strong training camp performance into an NHL roster spot, much like Letestu was able to do last fall.

With Park, Vitale and Adams each capable of playing the fourth-line role, the Penguins will be free to maintain their three-center model. They won't have to make compromises and lose key role players should they decide to stick with Crosby-Malkin-Staal as the top three pivots, and the abundance of centers also gives them the freedom to toy with putting Staal and Malkin on a line.

In the end, it was an abundance of centers—something the Penguins shouldn't take lightly, given their recent injury history—which made Letestu worth letting go.

For Pittsburgh, the trade marks a nice return on a player who went undrafted and worked his way through the system. A hot start last season earned Letestu a three-year deal, and the Columbus trade returns a pick for a player on whom no draft pick was spent.

The move also saves the Penguins nearly $625,000 in cap space this season and $600,000 next year. Somehow, the Blue Jackets now have a cap hit nearly $700,000 higher than the Penguins despite having only two wins on the year (the Penguins, by contrast, have nine wins and lead the NHL in standings points).

As Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers noted, Letestu was likely being looked at by several teams. Letestu was going to be pushed off this roster eventually, and would have had to hit the waiver wire before clearing for Wilkes-Barre Scranton. That Columbus felt he was worth a pick likely means there were other clubs in the running for his services.

Puzzling, though, is the rationale for Columbus in making this deal. A team in desperate need of a rebuild sends away a draft pick for a player who their GM, Scott Howson, apparently thinks is just an okay kind of guy to have on your roster:

We like the player. It does not fill an immediate need, but you can never have too many centers. We think he's a top-nine talent.

As for Crosby's return, the Letestu trade marks absolutely nothing. The Penguins have 22 men on the active roster with room for one more, but it's hard to imagine the Pens or Crosby want his return to fall on the first of back-to-back games, especially with a three-day layoff following Saturday's tilt with Carolina.

CrosbyWatch will hold steady until the Penguins release news that definitively states otherwise.