The Tampa Bay Lightning got a welcomed sight Thursday morning when defenseman Victor Hedman joined them for an on-ice workout for the first time in a month. The fact that he took shots for the first time was an even better sign for a team that has weathered the storm well since Hedman left the lineup after breaking the index finger on his right hand in mid-October.
Nobody was happier, perhaps than Hedman himself, than Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team has gone 10-4-1 in his absence.
“I don’t want to throw numbers out but he’s a top-10-slash-top-five defenseman in the NHL,” Cooper said. “You pull the top defenseman from any team in this league and everybody would have issues. We’ve weathered this storm without him, but we can’t go much longer.”
Hedman, who suffered the injury blocking a shot in a game against Vancouver Oct. 18, had been off to a sizzling start, playing almost 20 minutes a game and scoring seven points in five games.
“It’s really tough when you look at it that way,” Hedman said. “I felt good in the start of the season and this is something you can’t really control. I just look at Stammer (Steven Stamkos who broke his leg a year ago) and his attitude and how positive he was through his process. I just learned from him and approached it the same way.”
Hedman wore a splint on the finger throughout the morning skate prior to the Lightning’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and is looking forward to taking slapshots without a splint on his finger. But there is no rushing the healing process. Hedman said he thinks he’s about 10 days to two weeks from seeing game action, while Cooper is erring on the side of caution.
“The line we use in Tampa is, ‘He’s a fortnight away,’ “ Cooper said. “That’s our new hockey term.”
Hedman was decked in a bright red sweater and socks for the workout, which designates he is not to take part in any body contact. "I look like a Christmas tree," he said.
* Losers of three straight games and coming off humiliating 6-2 and 9-2 losses to Buffalo and Nashville, respectively, the Maple Leafs are facing all sorts of negative scrutiny. With the Leafs trailing badly in the third period of the Nashville game, a disgruntled fan threw a Leafs sweater on the ice.
And things won’t be any easier for them Tuesday night as they face a Tampa team that will be eager to erase the memory of a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders Tuesday night. Going into that game, the Lightning had picked up points in nine of their previous 10 games.
The Leafs had a hard workout Wednesday with the entire management team watching. Coach Randy Carlyle said the players requested an optional morning skate Thursday and he gave it to them. You’d think Carlyle, after sticking his neck out like that, would expect some sort of payback from his team. Not having one of their notoriously bad starts would certainly help.
“If their mindset is that’s what they need to get ready for tonight, let’s do it,” Carlyle said. “It’s not a payback. I want them to pay back themselves. Don’t worry about me. Do it for your hockey club, do it for your teammate, do it for our fans.”
Injured players Joffrey Lupul (broken hand), David Booth (fractured foot) and Brandon Kozun (high ankle sprain) all took part in the morning skate, but none will be available tonight. “I would say that Lupul and Booth are closer than Kozun,” Carlyle said.