Kris Letang gets his share of criticism from fans and yes, sometimes he stands out like a sore thumb. The point isn’t the sore thumb part though. The point is he stands out.
You can have a long, successful career by being safe. Keeping things simple generally means no mistakes. Its low risk, low reward. Those types of consistent players are important.
However, winning consistently over long periods of time requires game breakers. No matter how consistent and trustworthy someone is, or a whole team of someones for that matter, a talent will always come along to steal the show.
Now, more often than not, Letang stands out in a good way. He’s not afraid to hold on to the puck even when under intense pressure. This allows time for his teammates to get open offensively, or recover defensively. He’s not afraid to take a chance on a rush. He’s not afraid to make a risky pass through the middle of the ice to create a chance others wouldn’t even see. He’s not afraid to take chances, and he’s confident enough to keep on taking them even when things go wrong.
It’s fun when things are going right, of course. Things seem easy, you get in a zone where you’re willing to try anything, and you get lots of reward. The crowd goes home happy. You’re a standout.
When things go wrong, like a picked off pass, or a bounce over the stick, or a horrible decision to skate the puck out of the zone into traffic when a simple off the glass and out would have done, it’s not so fun. Things get hard. You cost your team. The crowd goes home angry. You’re not a standout, but you definitely stand out.
In those moments, we have as fans have a choice. I choose to be grateful, not hateful.
Interestingly, I felt inclined to write this even as I thought Letang had one of his best games in the series opener against the Washington Capitals. I was surprised at how many people weren’t happy with his performance.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have enough “steady” players. Don’t wish Kris Letang to be just another one.