Letang's trip to Russia long, strange and quite a journey
Defenseman Kris Letang returns to workouts Friday at Southpoint after spending time in Russia with SKA St. Petersburg. "I enjoyed my time there," Letang said.
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Kris Letang clearly does not think of it as a wasted trip.
Not when he was able to get in a few quality workouts.
Not when he had a driver responsible for taking him anywhere he wanted to go in the city, whenever he wanted to go there.
And, heck, not when he got his picture taken in a flashy SKA St. Petersburg uniform.
It was nearly enough to make him overlook the reality that he never got a chance to play in a hockey game, which is what had led him to Russia in the first place.
Letang barely had arrived in St. Petersburg, where he would end up spending "four or five days," a little over a week ago before the NHL and the NHL Players' Association agreed on the structure of a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that had expired Sept. 15.
He hung around the city for a bit, then flew back to his native Montreal for a couple of days before returning Thursday night to Pittsburgh.
Letang came back to this side of the Atlantic with some cool memories of what he had seen and experienced, but without so much as a single Kontinental Hockey League shift on his resume.
Nonetheless, he didn't bring back any regrets, either.
"It was a first-class organization," Letang said Friday after joining a dozen teammates in player-organized workout at Southpointe. "I enjoyed my time there."
More than a few of his co-workers were perplexed when, about 10 days ago, word circulated that Letang was on his way to Russia.
The timing seemed utterly illogical, given that negotiations for a new CBA were nearing a point where either a deal would be struck or the season would be lost.
There seemed to be no reason to fly thousands of miles at the time he did so.
Letang, though, said his deal with SKA St. Peterburg had been "done a long time ago," and that he was fully aware that labor peace in the NHL was possible even as his trip was approaching.
"Even if the lockout was close to an end, they asked me to come anyway to check out the facility and check out the way they were managing the team," he said.
"It was a good experience."
Letang had a lot of those last season, especially during the early portion of it.
He was voted into the all-star game and was a fixture in Norris Trophy conversations, at least until a wicked hit from Max Pacioretty of Montreal gave him a concussion that sidelined Letang for about two months.
He is only 25, however, and seems capable of contending for the Norris for a number of years to come.
Doing it in the lockout-shortened season, however, will present some unusual challenges. Being able to start strong will be critical to individual, as well as team, success because only 48 games will be played.
Even though he didn't play competitively during the lockout, Letang, who made a brief stop in this area in late autumn, believes his offseason regimen has prepared him for the demands ahead.
"The way I trained this summer and this winter, it's going to help me a lot to try to keep in shape during that schedule," he said.
Letang did much of his training in Montreal with members of the Canadiens.
He cited them as an example of a team that, because of extensive changes since last spring, enters this season in a more precarious spot than the Penguins, who had little personnel turnover and are familiar with coach Dan Bylsma's system.
"[The Canadiens] changed their coach [to ex-Penguins coach Michel Therrien], they changed their [general manager], they signed a lot of guys," he said. "It's a lot different."
Although Letang clearly enjoyed his time in Montreal, where he spends his offseasons, he left no doubt that he had long been ready for the lockout to end.
"It was way too long," Letang said.
"Until September would have been good. I missed hockey a lot.
"I had the chance to see my family and my friends for a little bit longer, but I wish I could have played hockey instead."
NOTES -- Although the NHL will not release the regular-season schedule until the union finishes voting on the CBA at 8 a.m. today, the Penguins' home opener is expected to be Jan. 23. They will open Jan. 19 at Philadelphia, then face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden the next night. Barring late changes, the Penguins will play home games against the Flyers Feb. 20 and March 24 and Washington Feb. 7 and March 19. ... The Penguins are scheduled to have a voluntary workout at around 4 p.m. today at Southpointe.
First Published January 12, 2013 12:00 am