When last defenseman Kris Letang sat at his Pittsburgh Penguins stall and spoke with reporters, he got defensive when asked about cutting down the risk in his offensively-aggressive style. That was as the team was heading into the offseason after getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders.
Tuesday, Letang again sat and spoke with reporters, this time on the other side of the offseason, after an informal practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex with many of his teammates.
Letang was in a joking mood at times, but also still maybe just a tiny bit salty.
In previous summers, Letang would usually take to social media to post video clips of some of his impressive, high-level offseason training workouts. This summer, crickets.
“I mean, I didn’t train. I didn’t train. I just took vacation,” Letang deadpanned, somewhat smiling.
Then the real answer.
“I tried to be low key this summer. That’s it. I trained. Trust me. I trained,” he said.
Letang purposely did not post videos this summer, meaning people could not ooh and aah at his maniacal workouts.
“I don’t really care what people think about me, to be honest. They can say whatever,” Letang said, perhaps still a little bugged by criticism of his play last season, when it seemed every failed risk he took on the ice got magnified or came back to haunt him.
“I know what I’m doing, and I do things right. At the end of the day (posting those videos) is good for business, I’m sure. I’m sure certain people love to follow their players and look at it, but some like to be more private. That doesn’t mean you don’t train.
“I don’t think Sid (Crosby) went all offseason without training because he doesn’t have social media. It is what it is. In previous years I used it. This year I stayed low key.”
Letang didn’t spend much time this summer reflecting.
“I don’t really think about it, to be honest. … I just think, uh … we kind of … I’m one year closer to retirement,” he said, laughing. “I try to (do) as much as I can in my time in the NHL. We’re three guys in this dressing room that want to win as much as we can until we’re done. And I think it’s the same goal for this team. We want to win every year. Maybe we wasted one year last year, but this year’s a new year and (that’s) the only thing I’m thinking about right now.”
The other two guys he referenced, of course, were Crosby, 32, and Evgeni Malkin, 33, making up the trio that has been on three Stanley Cup teams.
There might be talk in some quarters of the window closing on the Penguins’ annual Cup chances, but Letang is not adjusting his approach.
“It doesn’t feel different. One year older, I guess,” Letang, 32, said of coming back for the start of training camp Friday and launching into the 2019-20 season.
“I know how to prepare myself, throughout my summer and throughout my training camp. It’s going to be the same thing – I’m going to try to get into a good rhythm and get ready.”
One of the big changes in the offseason was the trade that sent sniper Phil Kessel to Arizona. That came after such unrest within Penguins management in the immediate emotional wake of the Islanders sweep that Letang and Malkin heard their names come up in terms of changes, too.
“There was trade speculation but there was a trade also — we lost a guy that helped us win the Stanley Cup,” Letang said of the Kessel deal. “It kind of sends a message about how good the league is that you can trade a guy like this and try to get better in different areas and try to change your lineup. It tells you that you have to bring your ‘A’ game every night and try to be the best player out there.
“There’s so many good players. I’m pretty happy to be a Penguin one more year.”
Without Kessel, the power play will necessarily change. Letang first did not want to speculate on those changes.
“I’m not making the units. I’m not making the positions. You’re asking the wrong guy,” he said. “As far as what I’m going to control, wherever I’m going to play, I have to bring my best. That’s it.”
Asked specifically about Kessel’s absence, Letang opened up a little more.
“Obviously, he’s a great player,” he said of Kessel. “He was a great player on our power play, good passer, guy that can enter the (offensive) zone with control. Somebody has to take that role. We’ll try to fill his spot, but maybe in a different way. Maybe more of a shooting or something like that. I don’t know. It’s too early to tell.”