Perhaps, at some point in his life, Kris Letang stumbled upon a leprechaun and his pot of gold. After taking the gold, maybe Letang picked up the little fella and punted him. Like he was pinned back on his goal line in the AFC Championship Game.
And maybe that’s why Kris Letang has such terrible luck.
Kris Letang has good luck in the sense that he was blessed with amazingly athletic genes, allowing him to sign professional contracts that have granted him multi-generational wealth. But he’s cursed in the sense that he’s been saddled with the most bizarre injuries that regularly preclude him from demonstrating his prodigious talents on the ice.
It hasn’t always been this way for Letang. In the early part of his career, while never a paragon of health, he was fairly reliable for at least 70+ games per year. In the 2010-11 season, Letang did play all 82 regular season games for the only time in his career. That season would represent the high point of his personal health, though, as the only time he’s even topped 70 regular season games played since then was last year’s total of 71.
Since that 2010-11 season, Letang has missed 134 games (and counting, with this latest injury) with a wide variety of ailments ranging from:
- 3 known concussions
- broken foot
- broken hand
- knee injury
- 2 groin injuries
- multiple ‘upper body’ injuries
- multiple ‘lower body’ injuries
And the kicker….
- a stroke
Yep. A then-26 year-old Letang had a stroke due to a tiny hole in his heart. Letang is a model of fitness and a tribute to what happens when good genes and a fanatical work ethic are combined, but he still was felled in 2014’s season by something that no person in their 20’s ever thinks will happen to them.
A popular parlor game amongst Penguin fans is the ‘What If?’ game with Sidney Crosby. It’s easy to wonder what Crosby’s career, both in terms of point total and impact on the game of hockey, would have been like if he didn’t have over two seasons marred by concussion problems. But perhaps it’s also time to wonder what Letang’s career might have been like with a modicum of better health, too. To date in his career, Letang has only been a finalist for the
Lidstrom Norris Trophy (i.e., top 3 in vote getting) once in his career, back in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season when he scored 38 points in 35 games (despite missing 10 games that year).
It wouldn’t have mattered this season, as Brent Burns is on auto-pilot to garnering the Norris, but there have been plenty of other recent seasons where Letang would have been on the short list to win it had he just played a few more games. Somewhat shockingly, Letang was left out of the top 3 last year in favor of the winner Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, and Brent Burns. His 67 points placed him 3rd among defensemen (Doughty was 10th), but his overall 200-foot game and silky skating ability seemed like a lock to get him at least a nod. Erik Karlsson pays his defensive zone a visit, now and then, just to remind the boys who he is. Both he and Burns are forwards that masquerade as defensemen.
With the latest unconfirmed rumor being that Letang has a tear in his shoulder, it brings into focus even more what his loss means to the Penguins. This year he logged over 25 minutes per game of ice time. That’s a lot. But the playoffs is where Letang typically taps into the reserve tank of fuel. Last year, he averaged 28:53 of ice time. That’s nearly half the game.
The trade for Mark Streit, an offensive puck-moving defenseman, makes a lot more sense now knowing that Letang might be out for the rest of the season if he needs shoulder surgery (or whatever else it could be, for that matter). During his time off, I hope that Kris Letang sees an exorcist, because he’s in need of a spiritual cleansing.