Some people thought his career was over, while others thought he should take the rest of the season off to evaluate his health; but on Wednesday morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced something that their fans have been dying to hear for months: Kris Letang is back.
When Letang began to miss a few games earlier in the season, his ailment was simply listed as being under the weather. There was no panic because the Penguins had such an insurmountable lead in the Metropolitan Division that allowing him to rest up and recover from whatever bug had him down sounded like the right idea.
At one point, five of the Penguins’ top six defensemen were out of action for one reason or another, yet the Penguins continued to win. What was one more? Let him get healthy; it won’t be too long.
When looking down the list of injuries, “illness” is usually the one that we look over because we know it’s usually just a player missing a game or two at most. The broken bones and battered bruises are what us fans worried about the most. Our minds were on Paul Martin, who had fractured his tibia, Beau Bennett, who had undergone wrist surgery, and Tomas Vokoun, who terrifyingly discovered a career-threatening blood clot in his pelvis.
Then, the truth came out about Letang and our minds shifted toward the beloved No. 58. He had suffered a stroke at the tender age of 26 years old. The leader of the defense suffered a stroke. No matter how you spun it, it didn’t make sense or seem right.
It’s a fact of life that things change in an instant, but when reading the word “illness” on the injury report, no one believed that meant that his wife walked into their bedroom and found Letang lying on the floor barely able to move. The thought itself plays out like a nightmare.
But after 10 weeks, Letang is back. With the Penguins’ seeding in the postseason already set in stone, Letang will return to the ice against the Detroit Red Wings. His return will ignite the locker room, and his recovery may perhaps motivate Vokoun, who was just sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for a conditioning stint, to make his way back into the lineup as well.
The last three games of the Penguins’ season don’t matter statistically, but they will surely matter to Letang. There are few things in sports more difficult than returning from a serious injury or ailment, but Letang will surely have that million dollar smile showing all game long after being through what he has.
It’s cliche to say that you should enjoy playing the game every chance you get because you never know when it will be the last time, but that is exactly what Letang is going to have in the back of his mind at all times from here on out.
His fight through such adversity should be rewarded, and his teammates understand how difficult the last few months have been for him. But for hockey players, lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup heals all wounds, which is why Letang will continue to fight.
Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow.