There were rumblings of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang heading overseas for the duration of the NHL lockout. Should the entire season get canceled in mid-January, what would be the pros and cons of Letang playing elsewhere?
The biggest benefit in heading overseas would be continuing to improve his game. Practice is one thing, but it’s going to be hard for Letang to re-adjust to playing in the NHL after not having competed for so long.
Letang can’t afford to wait idly while other players carry on despite the lockout. Not only will he fall behind his future opponents, but he may find his position on the roster in jeopardy.
Looking at Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot is an awful lot like looking at Letang just a few years ago. He is an explosive skater who is adept at making plays and scoring goals from the point.
Pouliot isn’t an immediate threat to take Letang’s spot as the team’s top offensive defenseman. After all, he was only drafted this past year and has yet to make his debut in the AHL.
That said, no one can afford to sit on his hands while these hungry prospects get better with each passing day—Letang included.
On the flip side, Letang lost over 30 games in 2011-12 to a nagging hip injury and a concussion. As valuable as the experience that comes with competing elsewhere could be, getting injured again would be a major setback.
Letang was on track to have the best season of his career in 2011-12. Aggravating his hip injury could put him on the shelf, further delaying him from reaching his full potential.
Suffering another concussion could be even worse. Letang can ask his team captain all about that.
Other than his personal performance, sending an injury-prone Letang overseas could haunt the Pens when the work stoppage ends. Letang has always been a valuable offensive force from the blue line.
In Letang’s sophomore season, he chipped in a modest four goals and nine assists in the 23-game campaign that saw the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. He’s become a much more valuable offensive contributor during both the regular season and postseason since then.
Also, other leagues don’t have the same medical staff the NHL does. If he gets injured overseas, he wouldn’t have access to the care the NHL offers.
It’s a hard decision to make. There’s no doubt he’ll wait and see if the NHL and the Players’ Association reach a deal by the soft deadline of mid-January.
But what if there is no season? Then what?
There’s no telling what could happen to Letang in another league.
At 6’0” and 200 pounds, he can hold his own, but it's hard to say if it’s worth the risk of injury.
It would probably be best for Letang to stick to his personal practice routine. That way, he could make sure his hip and concussion issues are dealt with, and not aggravated, so he’s in top condition when NHL competition resumes.