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Pens' Whitney out at least three months

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Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008

Ryan Whitney's critics have considerably less ammunition today.

Turns out, the defenseman skated on one healthy foot last season.

Whitney, whose point total dropped from 59 in 2006-07 to 40 last season, underwent surgery to correct a left-foot misalignment Friday in Charlotte. Full recovery from the procedure, an osteotomy, usually takes three to five months.

"I just couldn't live on one healthy foot anymore, let alone try to skate," Whitney said Thursday, on the eve of his surgery. "We've tried everything to avoid surgery because we knew it would mean missing a chunk of the season. But nothing worked."

The Penguins confirmed Whitney's surgery yesterday.

Whitney, entering the second season of a six-year, $24 million contract he signed in July 2007, said general manager Ray Shero and coach Michel Therrien "were stunned" during season-ending meetings when Whitney informed them he had played all of last season on basically one skate.

Whitney said several teammates, including defenseman Brooks Orpik and center Sidney Crosby, were aware his left foot "was in bad shape" last season, but he didn't want an injury to be an excuse for an admittedly disappointing season.

"I'm not making that an excuse," Whitney said. "I need to perform better than I did, and I know that is the expectation. But I've always thought skating was the biggest part of my game, and last season, I couldn't skate like I can."

Whitney's loss deals a blow to the Penguins. He spent much of the past two seasons working the "off" point on the power play, where he tallied 16 of his 26 goals.

The Penguins, however, are deep on defense. They will open training camp next month with seven healthy defenseman that are NHL-tested, and right-handed shooting Kris Letang could ease the temporary loss of Whitney.

Also, the organization's top prospect, defenseman Alex Goligoski, starred with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL during his first professional year last season.

Whitney said he first noticed his foot pain when the Penguins played the Ottawa Senators in the opening round of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs. He worked with team trainers to correct the problem prior to and during last season, but none of the suggested methods -- specifically the use of orthotics -- worked.

The Penguins supported his decision to seek several medical opinions before opting for surgery, Whitney said. He visited three orthopedic specialists this summer, each of whom initially recommended more conservative treatment options.

But each of those physicians ultimately recommended the osteotomy procedure.

Whitney said missing a portion of the season "looked like a certainty" after consulting with a North Carolina physician who performed the surgery.

"Obviously, had we known surgery was inevitable, we would have had it in June," Whitney said. "Ray was great about trying to treat this without surgery, but nothing we tried worked.

"It's frustrating. We went from being optimistic, I wouldn't miss any time, to maybe not coming back until January. But at least now I know when I come back this year, it will be the me that's coming back."

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