Dunlap: The Penguins Can Win Without Letang

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – The Pittsburgh Penguins will still show up for the playoffs.

They will apparently give it a go.

They will be there. They will take their chances. They will pull on their skates and actually try as hard as they can. Oh yes, they will not forfeit.

If you listen to some fans — and even media-types — who spend hours studying this hockey club, the Penguins might as well just fold up shop after the dreadful news that all-everything defenseman Kris Letang will miss the remainder of the season (and 4-6 months in total) with surgery to repair a neck ailment.

I even heard on the radio something about how the only person as valuable in Pittsburgh to his team as Letang is Ben Roethlisberger to the Steelers. Whoa. Let’s slow it down some. Relax a little here, please.

Does missing Letang hurt the Penguins’ chances at repeating as Stanley Cup champions? Certainly.

Does missing Letang nullify any chance that they have? Hardly. Not even close.

Say it with me. Nice and slow. Maybe even twice for added impact and a deeper impression — “The Pittsburgh Penguins can still win a Stanley Cup without Kris Letang.”

Got that?

Will they win another one? I don’t know. But missing Letang will not preclude them from an ability to do so.

To wit, the Penguins are 24-9-5 in games this season without Letang’s services. I don’t know if you watched, but I just saw the Penguins thoroughly dominate a Blue Jackets team the other night without Letang — the Penguins took hit after hit and simply turned the other cheek and then roared past Columbus using an observable speed and skill advantage. How will any of that change in an upcoming playoff series against the Blue Jackets, especially with the impending return of Evgeni Malkin?

Now, I know the playoffs are vastly different than the regular season and if you make the point that you can’t compare the two, I can get on board with that … but only to a degree. Where there is a link is that the Penguins have experience (and plenty of it) playing without Letang and have seemingly put together a template on how to do so and be successful.

On top of that, general manager Jim Rutherford insulated this team from the total impact of a Letang injury by going out and acquiring Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit, two blueliners who have fit perfectly in Mike Sullivan’s system. What gives anyone the impression the play of those two will deteriorate when the season turns into the postseason? Other than Hainsey’s lack of playoff experience, I just do not see any practical questions about how those two men can help offset the loss of Letang.

There is also Trevor Daley, who will be returning any day and albeit might not be able to jump into a role with extended minutes right away, is a guy who has the ability to turn the puck from defense to offense (and skate) akin to Letang.

So maybe I’m missing something; maybe I’m the one who is off kilter here but I don’t think so. This whole “the Penguins cannot win the Stanley Cup without Kris Letang” narrative is something I just don’t believe in.

To me, it seems they built this team to be able to survive the loss of any one player — Letang included.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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