“It’s a lot better than the alternative, them not playing well. A lot better,” Tucker said on the phone Wednesday.
Tucker, who wears his heart on his sleeve, has been tremendously frustrated by a foot injury sustained Dec. 26 that has caused him to miss 15 of his team’s last 16 games.
The 31-year-old tried to gut it out in a Jan. 1 return, only to see his swollen foot get even worse. He’s been in a cast since Jan. 20.
“It’s been a very difficult situation,” said Tucker. “From thinking you’re going to be back in the lineup to not playing, it’s tough. But I have to deal with it. “And hopefully I’ll be well-rested when I come back and can give us a boost going into the playoffs.”
There’s no firm timeline for his return. Tucker will see a specialist Friday to find out if the foot has healed enough to he can take his cast off.
“We’re pretty positive that we can probably get it off this weekend. So that’s a big thing,” said Tucker. “At least I can start walking and doing some conditioning if I can get it off.”
Once the cast is removed, he’s probably two weeks away from playing.
“It’s too hard to tell until I start working out and actually get a skate on my foot,” said Tucker. “We’ll know more within probably 10 to 14 days when I can play a game.”
The Leafs can’t wait for his return.
Tucker led the team with 19 goals in 39 games when he was injured.
“We are going to be happy to have him back as soon as he’s ready,” Leafs GM John Ferguson told The Canadian Press from Nashville, where his team plays Thursday night. “Preferably it would have been yesterday.”
Whether or not Tucker returns wearing a Maple Leaf jersey is another question.
With the Feb. 27 trade deadline less then three weeks away, rumours are swirling around the potential unrestricted free agent. Edmonton and Calgary the two clubs most often mentioned.
“There aren’t any rumours coming from here, I can assure you that,” said Ferguson. “Nothing’s changed on our end.”
Tucker certainly hopes that’s true. He doesn’t want to go anywhere.
“The way I look at it and hopefully that’s the way they’re thinking, by the time I come back it’s like getting an acquisition anyway,” said the native of Castor, Alta. “I can look at myself at being traded to Toronto. Let’s put it that way.”
Tucker’s agent Carlos Sosa is trying to work out a new deal with Ferguson.
“The discussions have been positive and they remain positive,” said the Leafs GM.
Getting a new deal done with the Leafs has been a constant subject in the local media all season long. With the trade deadline approaching that will only intensify.
“Am I worried about it? No,” said Tucker. “I think both sides have made it clear. They’d love to have me and I’d love to stay here. In an ideal world everything would work out and it would be done already but that’s not the case.
“We’ll work towards it and we’ll continue to work towards it.”
In the meantime, he’s thrilled with his team’s sudden turnaround. The Leafs have won five straight games and eight of 10 to charge back into the playoff race.
While they remain ninth in the Eastern Conference, they’re only four points back of Montreal – which stood fourth before Wednesday’s games.
“It just shows the depth that we have,” said Tucker, one of the team’s leaders. “It’s not just a situation where we can compete. It’s a situation where we can actually compete with the teams that are up there in the standings.
“We’re not that far back from the Montreal’s and the Buffalo’s. So it’s a great situation.”