Apr 13, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) takes the ice to begin the game against the Ottawa Senators during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Letang Must Redeem Himself Next Season

Kris Letang‘s 2013-14 campaign was utterly perplexing, devastating, and disappointing all wrapped into one.

Letang suffered a stroke, which is, of course, the most frightening episode you don’t wish on anybody. It’s an attack that could have potentially ended his professional career as a hockey player, but by some long shot miracle, Letang battled his way back to the ice, and finished laced in skates rather than in a recovery center.

Was it his rigorous workout regime that kept him afloat amidst the heavy odds against him to return? Maybe. But now that Letang’s fully rehabilitated, and there seems to be no signs of a recurring event, the 27-year-old must focus on getting back to Norris candidacy level.

Prior to last season’s misery, Letang had registered an amazing 42 points (10G, 32A) in 51 games, which vaulted him into contention to be branded the best defenseman in the 2012-13 campaign; a prestigious award that’s aspired by all NHL defensemen, whether they don’t acknowledge the urge to win it or not. His magnificent performance earned him the eight-year, $58 million contract, and now that Matt Niskanen has bolted for Washington, Letang must prove to Penguins fans he’s deserving of such astronomic salary.

Before the spontaneous stroke occurrence, fans/media/critics were calling for Letang’s departure not only because of his plaguing paycheck, but due to his turnover-happy habit, and his inability to simply execute the responsibilities a defenseman’s suppose to uphold. Often times you’d see him struggling to pick up the right assignments, flailing his body at the puck after he’d essentially hand the biscuit to the opposition, and take errant shots at the net. That’s not good enough.

Redemption. Redemption, Mr. Letang. Redemption.

Letang’s been awarded a new lease on life – literally. This October, not only will it mark the commencement to winning the doubters’ trust back, but I believe we’ll see a resurgent Letang with the likes of which we’ve never seen. As referenced earlier, Niskanen’s gone, so Letang’s duties just got a whole lot more dense. While veterans like Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin, and Rob Scuderi will be the backbone to Letang, the 2014-15 season is his to finally blossom into the all-around dynamo he was expected to be. Like Niskanen did last season – only at a greater impact.

When Letang’s healthy, it’s extraordinary the production he can amass. I’m willing to go as far as deeming him the best offensive defenseman in the entire league. Of course, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban would have something to say about that declaration, but they don’t have the luxury of a Sidney Crosby or an Evgeni Malkin to keep up with Letang. And that’s what makes it so frustrating, because Letang simply cannot stay able-bodied.

I’ve never questioned Letang’s work ethic because the guy’s a gym junkie and an in-game workhorse; however, he’s sporadically shown diligence. Sometimes, it looks as though Letang’s doing to much – not thinking straight. When you’re too busy focusing on the possible foreshadowing and too timid to just play your game, thoughts of failure creep into your mental state. Letang just has to play his game.

I for one have strongly advised the Penguins – not literally – to deal Letang for prospects and draft picks, because, let’s get real, his contract is obnoxious, and too large for Pittsburgh’s payroll. Yet, general manager Jim Rutherford shows no implication that that’s what he’ll wind up doing. And part of me says that’s a wise move, because that’s how people felt about Niskanen, but part of me thinks Niskanen’s production was tied with his contract year.

Anyway I jostle the big picture, my gut tells me that as long as Letang remains active, he’s more than capable of stringing together dominant numbers, because he’s too good not to. Simple as that.

I have the utmost confidence in Letang he’ll bounce-back this season. At least, I hope that’s the case.

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