VANCOUVER – Sami Salo’s long wait to return to the Vancouver Canucks lineup is almost over.
The 36-year-old defenceman participated in his first full practice Wednesday since suffering a torn Achilles tendon last summer.
“It’s only going to get easier,”said Salo.“The first (practice) that you have (after an injury) is always the toughest.”
Salo, who has a history of freak injuries since joining the Canucks in a trade from Ottawa in 2002-03, hurt himself while playing a form of floor hockey in his native Finland in July. He was sprinting up the floor when his ankle gave out.
He ranked the injury, which required surgery, as“No. 1, for sure”in terms of difficulty.
“You can’t compare anything to this,”he said.“The first six weeks, it was just talking continually with buddies who have gone through the similar injuries (and) getting, obviously, support from my family and my friends, especially the management here. They’ve helped me ever since it happened. It’s everybody together helping mentally and pulling together.”
Salo, who has been skating primarily on his own the past two weeks, said he is“close”to returning. But he and coach Alain Vigneault said there is still no timetable for his 2010-11 regular-season debut.
“Well, 2011 is reasonable,”said Salo, who likes to keep reporters guessing about his health status.“I really don’t know.“
Noting that he has only skated a maximum of three times per week, Salo said his goal is to get the tendon back to 85 per cent. It will still take time to get comfortable and return the tendon to full health, he added.
“He’s definitely working real hard to try and come back and contribute,”said Vigneault.“Today was another step in his rehab. Obviously, there is no timeline and quite a ways to go here…But it’s obvious that having him back here with the group and going through normal, high-tempo practices is a good step.”
Earlier this season, Vigneault described Salo as the club’s best defenceman. But the Canucks, winners of 12 of their past 15 games as they prepare for Friday’s game in Dallas, have done well without him. Vancouver (22-8-5) is contending for first place overall in the NHL and appears to have the luxury of letting Salo recover slowly.
When he is able to return, Salo, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, will force the Canucks to make at least one roster move as the March trading deadline draws closer. His $3.5-million salary has not counted against the cap while he has been on long-term injured reserve–but it will once he suits up, and the Canucks will be over the limit.
Yet, Vigneault insisted that there is no delay–or rush–in Salo’s return.
“We’re not bringing him back more slowly or quick,”said Vigneault.“We’re bringing him back at the pace that his health can get it done. That’s a real serious injury. We’ve gone through it at different steps and we’re just going to continue here as we go forward.”
Meanwhile, backup goaltender Cory Schneider will start in Dallas. Roberto Luongo’s wife Gina gave birth to the couple’s second child, a boy, in Florida on Wednesday. Luongo flew out by private plane after Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Philadelphia to be with her and is expected to rejoin the team in Dallas.
Schneider (5-0-2) remains unbeaten in regulation time.
“It’s great. As a backup, I’m just giving the team a chance to win,”said Schneider
The start in Dallas will be his third in four games. He is due to see more action as the new year approaches. The game against the Stars will be the first of three games in four nights. With the exception of a two-day break, the Canucks will play at least every second night, as well as a pair of back-to-backs, between Friday and the all-star game break that starts Jan. 27.
Eight of Vancouver’s next 15 games are on the road.
“I’m hoping to get some games, if that’s what the situation calls for and be ready,”said Schneider.“We have a tough stretch against some good teams and a lot of road games. I just want to get wins to help the team move up in the standings.”
Also, Vigneault said winger Mason Raymond has been medically cleared to return from a broken thumb suffered Dec. 8 against Anaheim. The coach said he will deal with Raymond’s possible return in the next couple of days.
The club’s recent success has not made it easier for Raymond to watch from the sidelines.
“I think it sucks no matter what,”said Raymond.“I don’t know anybody who’d want to sit out. Hopefully, when I come back, I’ll just add to the success.”
NOTES: In a move that will clear salary cap space, the club plans to place defenceman Ryan Parent on waivers Thursday, said Vigneault. If Parent clears, he will be sent to Manitoba of the AHL…Defenceman Andrew Alberts, felled Tuesday by a sucker punch from Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley that resulted in a two-game suspension, hopes to play in Dallas despite a black and swollen left eye.