Should Kris Letang Consider Retirement?

letang0330 Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is out indefinitely after taking a hit from Arizona Shane Doan Saturday.

When should an athlete at his peak, like Kris Letang, throw in the towel? (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

By: Jim Meinecke

It is hard to think of an athlete that has had more of a rollercoaster career than Kris Letang. He is a player that has amazing physical attributes that include tremendous skating, stick handling, and a perfect blend of offense and defense. He has been near the top of the league in defense since 2007. On the flip side of the coin, he has dealt with a variety of health issues. His stroke last season was incredibly difficult for fans to comprehend. Most casual fans know of his insane workout regimen. How can someone in peak physical shape go through such a scary medical emergency? To his credit, he bounced back from the stroke he suffered last season with a Norris-worthy 2014-15 campaign this season. Now he has suffered his second concussion in a two month span. It begs the question – when is it time for an athlete at the top of his game to call it quits?

Taking his stroke out of the equation, Kris Letang has had his issues with concussions in his career.

Concussion Timeline

March 13, 2011

The first documented concussion I could find for Kris Letang was this game on March 13, 2011 against the Edmonton Oilers. He received a vicious check to the head from Gilbert Brule. However, he did not miss a game and dressed for the Penguins next game against the Ottawa Senators on March 15, 2011.

November 26, 2011

The next concussion for Kris Letang comes later that year in the 2011-12 season against the Canadiens. Letang had his head down after releasing a shot and takes a shoulder to the side of his head from Max Pacioretty. The hit happened with 3:20 left in the 3rd period. Letang would go through concussion protocol and pass. He would return to score the game winning goal in overtime. He was diagnosed with a concussion the next day and would be out almost two months missing 21 games in the process. He didn’t return to the lineup until January 19, 2012 against the Rangers.

March 1, 2012

Later that same season Kris Letang reaches for the puck in the corner against the Dallas Stars and takes an elbow to the head at full speed from Eric Nystrom. He would miss five games and return March 15, 2012 against the Rangers. If you are keeping track, that is three concussions thus far in under one calendar year for Kris Letang.

January 20, 2015

Fast forward to this season. Kris Letang takes a brutal boarding hit from Zac Rinaldo. Rinaldo takes four full strides and drives Letang’s head and shoulders into the boards. Oh, and he left his feet. Letang would only miss one game, however, as he returned to the lineup on January 27, 2015 against the Jets.

March 28, 2015

I am sure everyone has seen this multiple times, but above is the Shane Doan hit from Saturday afternoon. This appears to be the most vicious of his five hits that caused concussions. It was not from the contact itself, but because he ended up being defenseless and smacking his head off of the boards. He was released from the hospital after an overnight stay and will be monitored daily, but he is out indefinitely with his latest concussion.

So, after viewing that history, I ask again… when is it time for an athlete at the top of his game to call it quits? I can’t even imagine how an athlete considers something like this. Major league players are the very best athletes and competitors in their respective sports. They don’t know how to do anything else. All of their lives have revolved around eating, sleeping, and breathing the sport that they love. On the flip side, he has had a major health scare with a stroke, and at least five concussions that were documented. He is going to be 28 in April and has a young child and wife at home. I know we expect a lot from these athletes on the field, ice, court, etc., but I just want the best for Kris Letang as a human being. I don’t know what the right answer is, but after some athletes like Eric Lindros decided it was time to worry more about life than hockey, I hope the Penguins hold him out for at least this season so he has time to heal and to think about his future.