Kris Letang is the Penguins’ 2015 nominee for the Masterton award which recognizes sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to hockey. He was nominated last season as well after missing a significant amount of time due to a stroke he suffered in January 2014. The work-up to discover the source of the stroke led to the discovery of a hole in the septum of Kris' heart. While the hole wasn’t large enough to necessitate closure, one could certainly understand if Letang never played another shift in the NHL or, at the very least, dialed down his level of compete.
Instead, he is having another season worthy of Norris trophy consideration.
He recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I think it's one of my best years. My confidence level, I feel like I'm under pressure to make plays and make it happen. The way they're using me, against top lines, it gives me the confidence I can play against the best players in the league."
That confidence combined with perseverance and dedication are adding up to a career year.
Letang picked up his 43rd assist and totaled 31:09 TOI against Arizona on Saturday when Chirstian Ehrhoff was a late scratch. He has 11 goals and 54 points in 66 contests this season, already setting a new career high in points. He is only four points behind Ottawa's Erik Karlsson in the scoring race among all defensemen and 2 pts ahead of Montreal's P.K. Subban. Letang has notched an impressive 127 hits thus far…not bad for a guy who plays with a heart defect.
There is no doubt that Letang plays with great passion and at a maximum compete level. Recently, it has also seemed like he has played a bit thin-skinned. His total melt-down against the Red Wings, while not typical of his on-ice demeanor, betrayed the sportsmanship aspect of the Masterton criteria. He notched 22 min worth of penalties in that 5-1 loss to up his season total to 79 PIM and put him on track for the second most penalized season of his career.
True to his role as a leader on the team however, Letang took responsibility for his undisciplined actions and the need to say less and shoot more. In the Arizona game, with only five blue liners, he logged season-high TOI and was the difference maker at even-strength, on the power play and shorthanded.
Frankly, I would be surprised if Letang won the Masterton. While playing at such a high level after recovering from a stroke and with a known heart defect personifies perseverance and dedication, his recent struggles with composure may weigh against him.
The Norris Trophy? Now, that’s a different story!