Kris Letang had a tough 2013-14 season – one in which he suffered a stroke and battled injuries throughout. Despite the stroke suffered in January 2014, Letang bounced back in a big way during the 2014-15 season, reaching career highs in goals (11), assists (43) and points (54).
With his impressive performance during the 2014-15 season, Letang was nominated as the Pittsburgh Penguins finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy for the second consecutive season.
And this time, he’s one of three NHL finalists for the award, which will be presented Wednesday at the 2015 NHL Awards from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Should Letang win the award over Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk and Ottawa Senators netminder Andrew Hammond, the 27-year old Penguins defenseman will join former winger Lowell MacDonald and legendary center Mario Lemieux as the third Penguin to win the Masterton Trophy in the franchise’s 48-year history.
MacDonald, who played for the Penguins from 1970-78, had a rough start to his 13-year NHL career.
Left unprotected by the Los Angeles Kings heading into the 1970 Intra-League Draft, MacDonald headed to Pittsburgh. However, after just 10 games in a Penguins sweater during the 1970-71 season, MacDonald tore ligaments in his knee, which would require him to sit out the rest of the season and all of the 1971-72 season.
Returning to the Penguins lineup in 1972-73, MacDonald became one of the franchise’s most productive players behind center Syl Apps and winger Al McDonough. During the 1972-73 season, MacDonald found the back of the net 34 times and dished out 41 helpers for 75 points, good enough for third on the Penguins. For his triumphant return to the NHL following major knee injuries, MacDonald was awarded the Masterton Trophy for the 1972-73 season.
While MacDonald battled physical injuries to win the Masterton, star center Mario Lemieux battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a form of cancer – which threatened to end his illustrious career in the midst of his prime.
Halfway through the Penguins bid to win their third straight Stanley Cup title, the franchise announced on Jan. 27, 1993 that Lemieux – who missed more than 100 career games up to that point with a bad back – had cancer.
Before the announcement, Lemieux and the Penguins were on a torrid pace to start the year, racing out to a league-best 29-11-2 record. At the time, Lemieux was on pace to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s single-season point total record of 216 points set during the 1985-86 season.
With Lemieux missing from the lineup, the Penguins went 11-10-2. Following radiation treatments, Lemieux returned on March 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers. From that point on, Lemieux and the Penguins went on a historic tear. Trailing Buffalo Sabres forward Pat LaFontaine by 12 points in the NHL scoring lead, Lemieux tallied 56 points (30G-26A) in just 20 games to win the scoring title as the Penguins won 17 straight games.
Although the Penguins failed to win their third straight Stanley Cup title, Lemieux finished with 160 points (69G-91A) in just 60 games. For his efforts and improbable comeback during the 1992-93 season, Lemieux was the unanimous decision for the Masterton Trophy.
Much like Lemieux, Letang had a major health scare, suffering a stroke in January 2014. Missing 10 weeks while recovering from the stroke, Letang returned for the final three regular-season games and all 13 playoff games during the 2013-14 season.
Finally healthy and fully recovered from the effects of the stroke, Letang played like a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman for much of the 2014-15 season before suffering a concussion after a hit from Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan, March 28. Letang missed the rest of the regular season and playoffs, but that didn’t keep the two-way defenseman from receiving a nomination for the Masterton Trophy for his bounce back year in 2014-15 season.
The two-hour primetime awards show will be broadcast live, June 24, at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada.