PITTSBURGH (AP) When Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang announced his season was over due to a neck injury, he confidently predicted his absence wouldn't change his team's chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
He may have been one of the few. And yet here the Penguins are, up 1-0 over Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final even with one of the league's elite players impatiently watching from a luxury box.
Letang insists he's not a fortune teller, but he did have some inside information.
''You've all seen Sidney Crosby's demeanor, what he wants to accomplish,'' Letang said Tuesday. ''When you have a guy you can look up to, I was confident enough to say that in front of a lot of people and that's what's happening right now.''
Letang planned to be along for the ride and was rehabbing in March when he plateaued and opted for surgery in early April following an MRI exam. The 30-year-old said his recovery is going well and joked he may have already put his skates on a couple times. All of which bodes well for next season but leaves him in the unwanted position of being perhaps the best-dressed hype man in hockey.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan lets Letang announce the lineups in the minutes before the puck drop but then it's off to some far-flung seat in the arena.
''I think when I'm sitting in the box out there, people don't really like me,'' Letang said. ''I'm screaming. I don't work the best way by watching.''
Still, he's trying to make the best of it. He remembers how former teammate Pascal Dupuis fulfilled a similar role last spring just months after being forced to retire. While Letang is leaving the pure Xs and Os to the coaching staff, he's not shy about sharing what he's gleaned from watching.
''It's a lot slower when you're on top and you realize things you don't see at the ice level,'' Letang said.
Letang occasionally sits in with the coaching staff and in a way serves as a translator of sorts. He has been traveling with the team for much of the playoffs, his presence and energy remains contagious.
''He loves being at the rink,'' Sullivan said. ''He loves being around his teammates. He's all in.''
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