Superstar defenseman Kris Letang has not played a second of ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season because of lower-body injury. Yeah, everybody knows that. What nobody knows is when the talented French-Canadian will suit up for a game. Letang has skated on his own for the past week in thirty minute intervals and yesterday marked his first full practice with the team. Head coach Dan Bylsma has repeated there is no timetable for his return.
Maybe there should be.
Sure, the Penguins are 5-1 and looking great. In six games, they have outshot their opponents in five and are outscoring them 23-12. Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta have done outstanding jobs filling in for Kris. Niskanen especially, who has five points and a plus-7 rating. His also sharing the point on the powerplay nicely with Paul Martin. Given his and Maatta's play, it could be argued the Pens don't miss Letang.
But that's hogwash. When Kris returns to the lineup, his presence will turn the Pens from very good to lethal. Niskanen's start is fine and all, but historically he's shown he cannot keep this pace going. In six NHL season, Niskanen has gone over twenty points in three and over thirty once (35 in 2008-2009). Those numbers are good. Letang's are crazy. In his own six seasons, Letang's scored under twenty points twice. In last year's abridged season, he was a point a game player (38 points in 35 games). Oh, and there's that silly salary cap thing that might be the end of Niskanen as a Penguin.
Keeping Kris Letang on the bench is the safe thing to do. Putting him on the ice is the smart thing to do. A guy this talented whose shown he's ready to go needs to be played. The Pens did give him a massive payday for his hockey talent, not looking like a model in the luxury boxes. Yes, the Pens are doing well without him, but the sooner he's back in the lineup the sooner he'll get his hockey legs and be productive and ready for when the team needs him.
If he's not back tonight against the Flyers, then expect Letang's return to be Friday October 25th against the New York Islanders, after the team has three days off.
He should be back before November. Should be.
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