The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without star defender Kris Letang for the next four to six months due to a herniated disc in his neck, the team announced Wednesday. Letang has been out of action since Feb. 21 and has missed the Penguins last 20 games.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 5, 2017
Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford had the following to say on his star player:
Kris underwent an MRI in February that revealed a herniated disc in his neck. Our neurosurgeons examined him and recommended conservative treatment in an attempt to correct the condition without surgery. Kris had been making progress and was hopeful of returning for the playoffs until about a week ago, when the progress plateaued. He underwent another MRI, and, at that point it was determined that surgery was needed.
Letang had a very strong season prior to his injury, recording five goals and 34 points in 41 games. The 29-year-old will all but certainly miss the entirety of the playoffs which comes as a big hit to the Penguins who are dealing with other injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta as well as forward Evgeni Malkin, Daniel Sprong and Carl Hagelin.
Letang has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Despite this, he’s been one of the most impactful blueliners in the league over his 11 NHL seasons. After being taken in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft – the same year the Penguins drafted franchise cornerstone Sidney Crosby with the first overall draft pick, Letang has scored 87 goals and 386 points through 603 NHL games. His best season came during the 2015-16 season when he set career-highs in goals with 16, assists with 51 and points with 67. Earning NHL Second-Team honors and making the All-Star team were secondary rewards for Letang as he and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time since the 2008-09 season.
Penguins Managing Without Letang
The Penguins blueline has been beaten up this season, as mentioned. With Letang, Maatta and Daley all missing from action, the Penguins have been running with Ian Cole and Justin Schultz on their top pairing, Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey on their second pairing and Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel on their bottom pairing. Streit was acquired at the trade deadline by Pittsburgh amidst the slew of injuries that hit their defensive group.
Still, since Letang was injured, the Penguins have compiled a record of 12-5-3. They have earned 109 points on the year and sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division. They trail Washington Capitals by five points while sitting three points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins have fared well despite the absence of some of their top defenders, including their clear No. 1 in Letang. Competing in a deep playoff run without Letang won’t be easy, however, given how important depth is in the postseason.
The Penguins have earned the benefit of the doubt when considering their chances of winning the Stanley Cup this season. While they won’t have their full group of defenders, the team’s track record speaks for itself this season. Having to compete in a tough Metropolitan Division in the playoffs won’t do them any favors, though.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.