Erik Karlsson expected back in time for playoffs

Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Erik Karlsson took part in practice with his teammates Friday and is expected to return in time for the playoffs.

Erik Karlsson expected back in time for playoffs
Star defenceman Erik Karlsson skates with the team for the first time since injuring his achilles heel as the Ottawa Senators practice at Scotiabank Place. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Erik Karlsson hedged, understandably.
After all, it’s been only nine weeks since his left Achilles tendon was severed by Matt Cooke’s left skate in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The initial prognosis was that Karlsson might not even be back for the start of next season, given the length of time it takes for a severed Achilles tendon to heal.
So even after joining his teammates for practice on Friday for the first time since he was injured, he was tempering expectations of an early return.
However, Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray said all that stands between Karlsson and his return is his conditioning. He’s cleared for contact, and once he feels sufficiently fit to play in games, he’s back.
That could happen as soon as next weekend, before the end of the regular season, but certainly for the playoffs.
“He’s ready,” said Murray. “He just has to get in game shape now, have a few more practices, and then we’re hoping that somewhere down the road he’ll get himself ready to play. But he’s healthy. The doctors checked him out again (Thursday) and we wouldn’t have him out there if he wasn’t.
“He’s 100 per cent.
“We wouldn’t want to put him in a game until he felt he was physically ready to play, and that simply is: Is his fitness level at a good enough level to play in the NHL?”
Karlsson said even if Friday’s practice wasn’t the hardest he’s ever been through — after Thursday’s win, coach Paul MacLean just wanted his players to sweat a little — it was fun to be back with his teammates.
He’s been skating on his own for more than a week, which is boring, and welcomed the chance to participate in drills. He even skated for 30 minutes before Friday’s team picture, so he had a full day.
He’s not exactly where he wants to be, but he’s optimistic.
“It’s only been nine weeks or so,” he said.
“We expected it to take a lot more time. But right now it’s just about getting that normal feeling back of being in the skates and getting around and getting timing and stuff back.
“It was a good day today.”
He said there is no timeline for his return. The only expectation was that he would try to skate as much as possible to get the feeling back in his left leg. The more he skates, the better he’s going to feel.
If he returns for the playoffs, it will be an obvious bonus for the Senators, who have had lots of problems trying to score without Karlsson and Jason Spezza in the lineup.
Then, depending on how far the team goes, Karlsson will have another decision to make: Whether to join Sweden for the world championships in May.
There will certainly be pressure on him to play, since the championship will be in Sweden and Helsinki.
But Karlsson said he won’t do anything that jeopardize his health for next year.
“I think every injured player wants to get back as quickly as possible,” he said. “But I’m not going to put myself into a situation where I don’t feel comfortable, and I’m not going to jeopardize anything going into next season.
“I’m not going to make any stupid decisions, and I don’t think anyone working around me is going to give me any bad advice.
“I’m going to have to wait and see how it is going forward.”
In the early stages of his injury, he couldn’t tell how long his recovery was going to take. But in the last few weeks, he’s made progress every day.
He still figured it would be a day-to-day thing, but as long as he continues to feel better with each passing day, he’ll count himself happy.
“The more I practise and the more drills I do, I’ll have a better sense of how I really feel,” he said. “(Friday) was just the first day. I felt pretty good being out there and I was moving pretty well, but obviously it was just the first day.
“I don’t have any pain or anything like that, which is good. It’s not connecting as well as I would like, and I might not be as fast as I was, either.
“That’s something I’m going to have to work with. It’s probably going to be a while before I feel 100 per cent.”
His presence at practice buoyed his teammates, but they were hardly surprised. They knew he was making good progress. That’s not to say they weren’t happy to see him.
“It was good that he’s out here and practising with the team,” said Marc Methot, Karlsson’s defence partner before he was injured. “It’s an honour to be able to play with a player like him. I hope he comes back soon. He’s going to be a huge help for us.”
Seeing Karlsson on the ice was especially pleasing for owner Eugene Melnyk, who was at Scotiabank Place for his ninth annual Skate for Kids.
“It was great to see him skate, great to see him so upbeat,” he said. “He’s got a timetable of his own, but it’s absolutely amazing that he’s recovered to where he is now.
“His healing has been extraordinary, almost unheard of, but he’s a special person and he’s worked hard to get back, and he wants to get back, and as a fan, for all fans, we’re excited to have him come back. He’s going to make a full recovery at some point and it’ll be great to have him back.”
Melnyk said he wouldn’t talk about Matt Cooke, whom he has publicly condemned, and also wouldn’t comment on the status of the forensic investigation he announced he was conducting a few weeks ago to prove Cooke injured Karlsson on purpose.
Asked if his anger has diminished with the passing of time and Karlsson’s imminent return, Melnyk said no. He was merely trying to keep quiet.
“Look, it’s got nothing to do with settling down,” he said. “I’ve committed to not say about it until we’ve completed everything we need to do, and speak to the league about it.
“Look, I’ll do anything I have to do to protect my players. It’s as simple as that, and that’s exactly what I’m doing there, and after that I can’t really comment.
“It’ll take a couple of months before anything really comes out.”
On whether he’s taken a financial hit this year before of the lockout and the short season, Melnyk said the team has done OK.
“Surprisingly, a lot of people were predicting doom and gloom with fans, but that just hasn’t happened,” he said. “Sponsorship is up, our attendance has been great, and most of our games have been sellouts.
“We’ve had to give things outs as incentives to get people to come back, but there wasn’t that much that we had to do.
“There’s nothing better than being part of a winning team. That’s what I think is driving our success in attendance and sponsorship.”

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