Life happens, and professional athletes are usually better for it.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s best NHL regular season is also his first full one after the birth of his daughter. Sidney Crosby has grown increasingly less concerned with words written and said about him since his concussion saga. Evgeni Malkin rediscovered a sense of professional purpose while rehabilitating a blown-out knee.
These are just some examples of how life happening has impacted almost every Penguins player.
Kris Letang is no different in that regard.
He is different, though.
Letang is 26. He had a stroke.
Comprehending those two sentences is still nearly impossible. Professional athletes do not take strokes during the prime of their playing years.
Except that Letang did.
He also took it very seriously, and that has not changed in the near seven weeks since his wife found him on their bedroom floor.
Letang demanded that details of his stroke be made public. That was not a popular decision with a lot of people, including those close to him; but Letang ignored the advice of many people he has grown to dearly trust.
He put a lot of thought into that decision.
In the end, he trusted what he was hearing from doctors enough to feel he needed to become a public face of stroke. Letang, a relatively new first-time father, said he wanted other young families to know of his situation so they could potentially learn from it.
His story would serve a greater purpose.
That action was not surprising to anybody who has spent some time with Letang. Those that have can attest Letang is a deeply contemplative person with a sharp awareness of what is right or wrong.
To withhold information that could help others was wrong, Letang said.
Equally wrong is for anybody to presume he has made a mistake by returning to full practices with the Penguins.
Neither Letang nor the Penguins are doing anything wrong with this situation.
Letang is not cleared to play. He must pass additional tests to get that clearance.
Until that happens, him playing again this season is only a what-if scenario – and while those are the easiest to discuss, with regards to Letang let the silence that comes with waiting and seeing prove the sound of sanity.
If he does pass those tests nobody should tell him that he should not play hockey this season.
Letang did not lobby to take the ice at Consol Energy Center on Monday. He did not rush through treatment, either.
Multiple physicians advised a treatment course that included blood-thinning medication, non-activity and rest. Letang took the same approach to that treatment as he does offseason conditioning; he went all-in.
He does not have all the answers about what caused his stroke, and that is because those answers may not exist. If they are elusive to trained experts with years of medical experience, they are elusive period.
The doctors he trusts have informed Letang it is safe to practice, so that is what he will do for now.
Practices, unlike games, are controlled situations. There is no more danger for Letang to practice than there is Beau Bennett, who is coming back from a broken wrist.
That is the opinion of physicians. Their opinions are the only ones that matter.
Letang is going to want to try playing. Would he not, that would seem alarming.
The Penguins are going to listen to the doctors and let them make the call on Letang. Would they not, that would seem deserving of criticism.
Letang will want to play and the Penguins will want him to play – but ONLY if doctors deem playing safe. It really is all about the doctors at this point in the Letang story.
Hockey is a big part of Letang’s story, though. It is not the most important part, but a very important part.
To strive to come back – especially if he is medically cleared to do so – would prove equally important to Letang as it would to those who may be paying attention to his recovery, those who Letang wanted to reach by making his stroke public.
The only thing anybody should want for Letang is his health.
Nobody wants that more than his doctors.
After health, the only thing anybody should want for Letang is a return to his life, and that includes hockey.
Last week, after the Penguins defeated Washington at home, Letang approached Fleury inside the players’ dressing room at Consol Energy Center. They talked about some game sequences in English, but only briefly before having a conversation in their first language, French. Something that Letang said made Fleury laugh, and that laugh brought a smile to Letang’s face.
As he walked away, Letang carried himself comfortably.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Letang said. “I can’t tell you how much yet, but I feel like myself.”
Life is happening again for Letang, and he’s better for it.
That should be good enough for everybody else.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,