Injured Penguins optimistic about returning next season
Defenseman Kris Letang said he will be back, and he wasn’t alone.
Right wing Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Olli Maatta, key players who have faced ailments far bigger than hockey, insist they will return next season.
Letang, who had a stroke 15 months ago, spoke publicly for the first time since seeing his season end March 28 courtesy of a concussion-inducing hit from Arizona’s Shane Doan.
Maatta, who had a cancerous tumor removed from his neck earlier in the season, missed the campaign with a recurring shoulder problem.
Dupuis missed the season because of a blood clot disorder.
“I’m better,” Letang said. “I’ve skated a few times, early in the morning. I’m feeling better.”
Letang confirmed the team wasn’t going to let him play again this season, no matter how far the Penguins advanced in the postseason.
The 28-year-old defenseman has suffered multiple concussions, a stroke and has a history of migraine headaches. However, he hasn’t considered having his career cut short by head injuries.
“No concern,” he said. “I’m on my way to coming back. I’m just going through the protocol. I’ll be back on the ice. I missed only a bunch of games once, when I got (a concussion) in Montreal (in 2011). I never missed time for a concussion after that. I’m not really scared.”
Letang said he will be ready for next season.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Oh yeah. Right from training camp.”
Letang said Doan, whose controversial hit launched Letang head-first into the boards, wasn’t a dirty play.
“Actually, he reached out to me,” Letang said. “It was mainly the fact that my skate got caught (in a rut).”
Letang said the injury came at a difficult time because he felt he was having his best season.
“I was feeling great in the new system,” he said.
Maatta said his shoulder surgery was the same operation to the same shoulder as last spring.
“Last year, I played with it,” Maatta said. “I knew I could probably do it. This year, it got hurt a little bit more. I tried to rehab, to get stronger, tried to play with it. I couldn’t do it. I think it’s kind of naïve for me, too, to try and come back and not think about the future.”
Maatta said he is only two weeks away from skating.
“I think it’s going well,” he said. “We keep progressing. It’s feeling good. But I don’t want to rush it. Right now, we have a lot of time to do it. Rather do it right and be conservative. I’ll be ready for next year.”
So, too, will Dupuis, according to the veteran.
Dupuis is dealing with a career-threatening blood clot condition. He has been out of the lineup since November and soon will stop taking Coumadin, a blood-thinner.
Tests will be conducted once he has been off Coumadin for a few days, at which time Dupuis should have a clearer idea about his future.
“If you ask me, I thought I was going to play again this year,” he said. “If you ask if I’ll play again, I’ll say yes. But it’s not up to me. I have some more tests.”
Dupuis isn’t worried about long-term health risks if he is cleared to play again.
“Everybody in any kind of field, you worry about your life,” Dupuis said. “In hockey, we make the call of putting our bodies on the line. Not our lives, but our bodies, blocking shots night-in and night-out. But I definitely think I can come back and play again.”
Dupuis said he expects friends and family to be supportive of his decision.
“If it’s definitely safe, if the doctors clear me,” he said, “I don’t see why my family and friends wouldn’t want me to be happy and back on the ice.” Coming back this season was recently on his mind when he skated 12 of 14 days in private workouts.
“I still felt like I had a chance to come back in the Stanley Cup Final,” he said.
One player who might not return to the Penguins is defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. He said that he suffered multiple concussions this season, though he doesn’t believe he returned too early from the initial one.
He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and said he will play again next season.
“I’m still trying to get back,” Ehrhoff said. “It’s been a long road back. It was getting better, and then I started skating with the team, and I had some setbacks. I had to shut it down again. I don’t really know where I am now. Right now, I just have some time to get right.”
Ehrhoff said he started to play his best hockey after a slow start, which made the timing of the injuries frustrating.
“There is definitely interest in coming back,” he said.