The following are Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma's comments to the media following the team's announcement of Kris Letang's stroke.
On if he could share what went down last week in terms of the interaction he had with Kris and the general sense of the concern he had when this seemed to be most tenuous:
I think since Wednesday of last week – the day we left for LA – what I knew on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon, it just kind of kept changing, or at least finding out more information. Kris had an episode on Wednesday morning. We were having the mothers’ trip and his mother-in-law is a nurse and was there with him and he was fine, I guess. He wanted to go on the trip, got on the trip, we got to LA, he didn’t skate in the skate on Wednesday. We all saw him skate Friday morning the day of the game. Our team doctors felt something, enough to keep him out of the game in LA and then we get to Phoenix and then that’s when the tests started to, different tests, started to be done on Kris and realize that he did have a stroke. Sent him home to Pittsburgh to have more tests and more tests, and that’s kind of what we’ve been going through the last 5 or 6 days. He’s currently still being monitored.
On what has to happen for him to be able to get back, and this going beyond hockey and thinking of Kris as a patient and person first rather than a player:
Yeah, my conversations over the last three days with Kris haven’t had much to do with the power play, that’s for certain. We’ve gotten more understanding, a little bit, over the last couple days. More than we did in Phoenix. We’ve had some different conversations with Kris about just his overall health, what he is going through and the last few days have gotten a little bit better grasp on where he is at. They’re not a lot to do with the power play or how he’s bringing the puck up the ice. More over just concern for Kris the person and his health and where he’s at, not even in his career, just where he’s at in a health standpoint. And the six weeks, he’s I believe on blood thinners until the six-week mark and then going to be re-evaluated. He’ll be monitored I guess the whole time, but I don’t know if there’s a series of steps. I don’t think there’s a one, two, three that he has to go through during the six-week period of time. He’ll be back here in Pittsburgh at that time and hopefully move on to something different after those six weeks.
On how sobering and scary it is for a guy at his age and as well-conditioned as he is to have this happen:
Kris has made the point himself. It’s why he’s come out and talked about it in his quote there in the release. It can happen to virtually anybody. And his age at 26 and his health condition, not only is he a professional athlete, he’s probably one of the finest-tuned athletes we have on our team. To have the episode, to find out that you’ve had a stroke, it’s been scary. It’s been scary for Kris as a hockey player, but just the health of Kris the person, kind of shake your head at thinking that this would be a possibility for him and for an athlete and a 26-year-old.
On what Kris’ demeanor has been like and him seeming to have perspective:
In Phoenix, when we got some news about the first tests and the news that he had had a stroke, that sends a lot of thoughts through your brain about what that is and what that means. But having said that, we’ve seen him skate, we’ve seen him walk around. He’s free to exercise. But yeah, we’ve gone through a couple different levels of emotion with getting the news and the continuing tests and the continuing tests about his heart. And I think you ask the question right off the hop, about what does it mean? What does it mean for me? Those are serious and sobering questions.
On if surgery would be required to fix the hole in his heart and the worst-case scenarios were at first:
We really didn’t, other than the doctor not liking exactly what the story was and saying we’re going to do a test on Kris, we didn’t have any idea at that point in time. When we got the news in Phoenix that that’s what happened, that was the first time we had ever thought anything, really, of any seriousness. You are way out of my expertise (asking about the hole in his heart) and probably should leave it to someone (who’s qualified). But the hole in the heart is something that we all have when we’re born, most of us it closes. Kris has had it since he was born. It’s something he’s played with, exercised with, worked out with and is going to continue to live with. I don’t know anything much more than that for you.
On how he sees this impacting his team in terms of the back end going into the stretch run and potentially the playoffs and how significant of a loss it is:
There’s a few special players in the league. Luckily we have a couple of them here. Kris is a special player. He has special skills and he can bring something to the game that not every player can bring. His skating ability, his shot, his offensive ability, it’s special. And you can’t replace that. Have we played many games without him this year and our power play been fine? Yes, we’ve been able to do that. But you can’t replace that with filling in another guy or the next guy up. He’s a special player, he has special skills and that’s clear. But impacting down the road, I don’t even have an idea of what it impacts down the road past six weeks for us. So right now, it’s through the break and through the deadline. But after that, I don’t know. I don’t have any idea.
On if Kris expressed a desire to get this news out even sooner to end the speculation:
Well, we wanted to, I guess. Not necessarily Kris. I heard some of the speculation. But really, at no time point until maybe yesterday afternoon, was there a certainty. The tests kept happening and continued to happen and more news and different tests were happening. So we didn’t really feel like we had the ability to come out and say exactly what was going on. So yes, he wasn’t feeling well in Los Angeles when I said he wasn’t feeling well. But I stopped saying illness. We would rather have come out, (but) we didn’t have any great information. So yesterday afternoon, we finally were at a point where we could come out and say something. Kris was very much a part of it. He wanted to come out and talk about his having a stroke as evidenced by his quote there. But we really didn’t feel like we could even though we saw some of the speculation.
On the reaction of the players:
Well, up until maybe yesterday afternoon, the only person in this room that knew was me and what was really going on. (Senior director of communications Jen Bullano) didn’t know, the players didn’t know. I think maybe one or two players were included yesterday afternoon by Kris. So they found out this morning. Obviously they knew Kris was out and having some tests and other things, but there wasn’t any information out there. Today they found out and I’m not totally sure what their reaction was about the news and what the news was.