Out for a nice dinner with my wife and son on Saturday night, it was hard not to overhear the conversation at the next table a foot or so away as we were waiting to pay our bill.
Four adults, all engrossed in the excitement of the Boston Bruins who, at the time, were poised for their 12th straight win.
“Boy, I can’t believe how well Chad Johnson’s been playing,” one said of the team’s back-up goalie. He is, having gone 10-0-1 over his last 13 outings.
“I wonder if [Johnny] Boychuk will be back tonight,” posed another. “Supposedly he’s getting closer.” He did return, and skated a whopping 30 shifts for nearly 23 minutes of ice-time.
Then the chatter turned to, “This team is really in great shape if it gets far enough to get Dennis Seidenberg back.”
Credit the Bruins for creating a story by not refuting one.
B’s president Cam Neely joined the “Felger and Massarotti” program on flagship home 98.5 The Sports Hub last Thursday, and he was asked about the possibility of the injured and seemingly irreplaceable defenseman returning to the lineup in the event of a deep playoff run. Common-sense would have expected a quick, “No, that’s just unrealistic and we already said he’s done for the year,” but that’s not what happened.
“It’s really unfair to start speculating that. It’s unfair to the player,” Neely said of Seidenberg, who tore his ACL and MCL on Dec. 27 against the Senators and was said to be facing a six-to-eight month recovery. “I’m just going on experience. You want to play and you want to get out and play but, really, certain injuries take a certain amount of time to heal and everybody kind of has an idea of that time. But it’s really unfair of an athlete to start questioning or asking, ‘Can they get back to play?’ Time will certainly be able to answer that question. It’s hard to pull it out there, because it’s really unfair to the athlete because then they start thinking, ‘Maybe I can come back early,’ and that may not be helpful.”
About the only word Neely didn’t say was, “No.”
“It’s still up in the air,” said the Bruins coach. “I’m not going to say ‘no’, but there are certainly a lot of question marks there. I’m not going to stand here and say there’s a great chance he’s going to come back. When the time comes, he’ll be evaluated.”
Julien compared Seidenberg’s situation to that of teammate Patrice Bergeron, who suffered a serious concussion 10 games into his 2007-08 campaign but did not return in time for the Bruins’ first-round elimination to the Canadiens. The center had been cleared to play, but the organization wisely elected to be cautious.
“My guess is, if we go deep, he’ll start skating at some point and we’ll just see how he is,” Chiarelli said, noting how well conditioned Seidenberg is. “I guess you can’t rule anything out. I’m not counting on it. If it happens, it’s a bonus, but we’re going to be very cautious if we go down that path.”
I’ll say what the organization won’t – all the while hoping and praying to be wrong: Bruins fans shouldn’t expect to see Seidenberg again before training camp next fall.
It’s wonderful to hear the physical, penalty-killing defenseman is ahead of schedule in his recovery and that there haven’t been any issues with his rehab but, in a best-case scenario, the 32-year-old would have to channel his inner-Adrian Peterson for this pipedream to be a reality.
The Minnesota Vikings running back was back in training only four months after surgery for an ACL tear and was the NFL’s MVP in 2012. Seidenberg would be hoping to essentially do the same thing after his Jan. 7 procedure in order to return for June’s Stanley Cup Final. That, of course, is assuming the B’s can roll their hot play over into the postseason and get there for the third time in four seasons.
Peterson is the exception, not the rule. Most doctors will claim it takes an athlete a full calendar year to return to a normal level of play – as it did for Celtics captain Rajon Rondo. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that isn’t the case.
Let’s also say Boston does represent the Eastern Conference come the summer series. That’s obviously not incomprehensible. To some, it’s an expectation.
Even if Seidenberg pulled a medical miracle and was cleared by doctors to return, would Chiarelli, Julien and the rest of the organization feel comfortable risking a re-injury and dropping him into the top-pairing alongside Zdeno Chara for 20-plus minutes a night in the most important games of the year? That’s incredibly unlikely, especially with four more years left on his contract. The long-term threat would outweigh the short-term gain, just as it did with Bergeron six years ago.
Equally worthy of note, even if healthy, Seidenberg’s body would probably feel like it’s entering a training camp schedule, not the high-level additional rigors required to be successful during June hockey.
Plus, and I say this as someone who feels the Bruins should have done more at the trade deadline on the blue-line, it’s worth considering the B’s would probably be playing awfully well on the defensive end if they’d already survived three playoff rounds. Would a rusty, out-of-game-shape Seidenberg be an automatic upgrade over the top-six playing at that time? I suppose that depends on the group’s overall health and how many minutes the veteran would actually be expected to play. There’s obviously a difference between replacing Dougie Hamilton versus Corey Potter.
In the end, though, a discussion tempered by Bruins management is one that really never needed to be had in the first place. Should the B’s advance to the Cup Final, Seidenberg will be watching up on the Garden’s ninth level just like the media.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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