The news keeps getting worse for Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Letang has been out since Febuary 21st with an upper body injury, but was expected to rejoin the crippled Penguins before the playoffs began. That is not going to happen now, as Letang will undergo surgery for a herniated disc in his neck, with a recovery time of 4-6 months, keeping him out of the playoffs. The Penguins confirmed the news on their twitter page:
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 5, 2017
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford explained the situation to reporters, saying they felt it was the best move for Letang. Rutherford’s comments via NHL.com:
“Kris underwent an MRI in February that revealed a herniated disc in his neck,” General Manager Jim Rutherford said. “Our neurosurgeons examined him and recommended conservative treatment in an attempt to correct the condition without surgery. Kris had been making progress and was hopeful of returning for the playoffs until about a week ago, when the progress plateaued. He underwent another MRI, and, at that point it was determined that surgery was needed.”
Losing Letang is a big hit for the Penguins. Letang averaged close to 29 minutes a game for the Penguins during their 2016 Stanley Cup run, and posted 15 points in 23 games. Letang is not only one of the best offensive defenseman in the NHL, but also has the ability to shut down the top players in the league, a skill most defenseman do not have.
Without Letang, the Penguins will test their depth heading into the first round. Young defenseman Olli Matta has been out with a broken hand since February 16th, and while he has started skating, there is no word on when he will return. Trevor Daley is also out of the lineup after undergoing knee surgery on February 23rd, and is expected to still be out when the Penguins enter the playoffs. While those two should return during the playoffs, the Penguins will be tested before that, missing three key defenseman. It is not impossible, but a repeat does not seem likely anymore for this depleted Penguins team.