The fantasy impact of Letang's recent stroke.
The Short-Term Impact:
Letang will miss six weeks before being re-evaluated. At the very least you’ll be without him until mid-March but note the key word “re-evaluated”. This could be a season-ender. We don’t know for sure. Obviously with a condition this serious the player’s health comes before even considering how to get him back on the ice so I’d expect everyone to approach this with caution – hence the six weeks they are taking.
I’d imagine that Letang won’t be back this season. They’ll first need to evaluate his neurological state following the stroke and ensure that the clot has been dissolved. Then they’ll need to treat the underlying heart condition, which would require surgery. But it’s possible they forgo the surgery until the off-season and he makes a late return. I’m no doctor.
Those of you who have been hanging on to Matt Niskanen will continue to see benefits. He is the top dog with Letang on the shelf. Paul Martin sees a boost as well because he could potentially take over the top power play job if Niskanen falters.
This might also limit the Penguins’ flexibility in making a trade. Yes, Letang being out opens up some more cap flexibility this season but it also reduces some of the Penguins’ depth on the blue line. They may be less willing to deal one of their great defense prospects knowing that they could have greater need for that depth in the future. So the opening up front with Pascal Dupuis out may get filled by a lesser talent that might otherwise have been acquired.
The Long-Term Impact:
Fortunately for Letang and fantasy owners alike there is a blueprint for his return to professional action. Former NFL player Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke in the 2005 offseason the result of a hole in his heart (I’ve no idea if his was the same type as Letang’s). Bruschi underwent the same monitoring as Letang before eventually having the hole treated. He sought out many specialists before finally pushing to make his return to football. But he did return missing the first half of the 2005 season as part of his recovery but he’d finish the 2005 season and then play three more.
Bruschi was never as effective following the stroke but keep in mind, he suffered his stroke in his 30s an age where most football players lose their effectiveness anyhow.
There is some concern that Letang may never play again. He may take stock these next few months and decide that the risks are too great and I think we could all respect that decision. I don’t suspect that’s what will happen however. Now that the doctors know his condition it will be much easier to monitor his health. Resolving the heart issue could even make Letang a stronger athlete.
I hate to bring this up but Letang had struggled through much of this season and it really didn’t affect the Penguins any. His massive contract extension kicks in this summer. You have to figure the Penguins at least had some discussions about trading him to get out from under that deal. Don’t those conversations become more serious now?
Of course, there will be no movement on this front until Letang has these issues in the rear-view mirror. He is still a member of the Penguins family and they won’t turn their back on him at his greatest time of need. No team is that shameless. But keep that in the back of your mind. Letang on a team not named the Penguins is a less attractive fantasy asset. Letang has a modified no-trade clause in his new deal so he would have some input on his destination in the event of a trade but it’s not something that would stop the Penguins from making a deal at some point.
Niskanen was always going to get a nice pay day after the great season he has had. That becomes all the more clear with Letang out. It also increases the odds that the Penguins bring him back in case Letang is on the shelf beyond just this season, which means great things for Niskanen long term.
A potential future without Letang either because of on-going medical issues or because of trade there is room for prospects like Simon Despres and Derrick Pouliot to rise the ranks that much faster. Olli Maatta is already playing in the NHL and might receive a long term boost as well, though he doesn’t project as an offensive defenseman.
Despres is NHL ready having received a few cups of coffee already. He already projected to challenge for a roster spot next season. His odds of making the team and making a fantasy impact improve. Pouliot is still a long ways off from making an NHL impact so this doesn’t change much for his fantasy stock.
I apologize for getting so coldly analytical with this. A player’s life is at stake and that is what is most important here. I wish Letang nothing but the best in his recovery and hope he can make a safe and healthy return. I’ll miss watching him play.