Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang Wins the Masterson Trophy

Three-time Stanley Cup winner, two-time NHL All-Star, and six-time All-Star Game participant, Pittsburgh Penguin Kris Letang has accomplished a lot in his career. Now he has added individual hardware, winning the 2023 Bill Masterson Trophy, which was announced Monday night at the NHL’s annual Awards gala.

Kris Letang NHL Awards
Kris Letang at the NHL Awards after winning the Bill Masterton Trophy (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

According to the NHL, the Masterson is awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” Certainly, Letang embodies each, and one would be hard-pressed to think of someone more deserving of the award this season.

It was a tumultuous year for the veteran defenseman, in more ways than one, but ultimately he came out all right. But with 2022-23 behind him, Letang is set on joining his Penguins teammates for a return to form in 2023-24.

Letang’s Difficult 2022-23 Season

It started promisingly enough. In the 2022 offseason, Letang re-signed with the Penguins through 2028, presumably keeping him in Pittsburgh through retirement. It also kept the core of him, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin together, with their aim to march back to the postseason and course correct after a string of early playoff exits going back to 2018.

Related: Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Brayden Yager 14th Overall

It looked like the Penguins might have a loaded offense returning, with Jake Guentzel fresh off another 40-goal season and Crosby with 84 points in 69 games. For his part, Letang picked up career bests with 58 assists and 68 points. They were third in the Metropolitan Division in 2022, and with new acquisitions like Jeff Petry, they hoped to build on that success.

But we all know what happened next.

After starting 4-0-1 out the gate, the Penguins stumbled to a 4-6-2 record after 12 games. That set the tone for what would be an up-and-down campaign for a team that held the longest active streak of playoff appearances. And for Letang, in particular, it would get worse.

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Through the Penguins’ Nov. 26 loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Letang had missed only one game. Of course, he also struggled to get on the scoresheet. Through 21 games, he scored only one goal but picked up 11 assists. And there, his troubles began.

First, he suffered a stroke on Nov. 28, the second of his career. Stunningly, Letang’s health scare kept him out of only five games, as he returned to action on Dec. 10 against the Buffalo Sabres. He was held pointless in that game, but he played 25 shifts for over 22 minutes, throwing seven hits and blocking three shots, and underlining the warrior he is.

A month after the stroke, Letang’s father, Claude Fouquet, died, dealing another blow to the family. In a show of support, the Penguins attended the wake, and Letang took a month off from action before returning at the end of January. Given the circumstances, it would have been understandable for Letang to take more time off to grieve, but he remained dedicated to his team. During his absence, the Penguins were mired in a 4-5-2 funk, not even scoring three goals a game.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For the remainder of the season, Letang played well, considering. His assists were down, as most of the team struggled to find the back of the net, but his goal-scoring picked up. He scored ten goals, 25 points in his final 35 games. He finished the season with 12 goals and 41 points in 64 games, despite what he dealt with off the ice. Unfortunately, the streaky Penguins ultimately missed the playoffs, but that seemed almost trivial compared to the human factor at hand.

Letang Looking Forward to 2023-24

What could have been a dirty, black summer of 2023 for Letang and the Penguins has already been looking up. Within days of the regular season finale, the team fired general manager (GM) Ron Hextall. After leaving the GM position with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kyle Dubas replaced Hextall and then hired Jason Spezza as his assistant. With new management, there is already a new attitude in Pittsburgh.

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At the NHL Awards, Letang was in good spirits, joined by his wife and children. With his family there, winning the Masterson underlined the family nature of not just the award, but also the situation they all faced last season.

Though he admits that he shouldn’t be happy to win an award that “means you’ve had a tough time,” there is plenty for Letang to look forward to. For one, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who presented him with the award, enjoyed a solid rookie season he can build on should he re-sign with the team.

Before drafting Brayden Yager in the first round, the Penguins acquired Reilly Smith fresh off his Stanley Cup win with the Vegas Golden Knights. So the winds have already shifted for the Penguins. As they look to put the struggles and disappointment of 2022-23 behind them, the stalwart Kris Letang is ready to return and help lead the way.