TORONTO – There is still no timeline for the return of David Bolland, who once again went through a tentative skate on his own at Air Canada Centre on Saturday morning. But this much is clear about the Toronto Maple Leafs centre: Very little should be expected from him this season.
What has become increasingly clear as he’s endured a slow recovery from a severed tendon on the outside of his left ankle is that it’s extremely unlikely he’ll return to the form that made him one of the Leafs best players in October.
That is certainly not Bolland’s fault. He has been working diligently with Toronto’s training staff the last couple months and was recently fitted for a custom skating boot to try and speed up the recovery. However, the painful reality of his unusual injury is that there are no quick fixes.
The 27-year-old is now coming to grips with that fact after a couple shaky skates over the last week. His surgically repaired peroneal tendon is still causing a great amount of discomfort and it’s forced the Leafs to push back their own expectations for his recovery, which is why Bolland describes this rehab as more difficult than any other he’s been through.
“When you’re watching and you’re off the ice, it does screw with your head a lot mentally,” he said before Toronto hosted Montreal at Air Canada Centre. “I think when you cut a tendon it’s a big deal. You never know. … You have that in the back of your head – when you’re going to come back and what’s going to happen – and you do get a little mentally broken down.”
There had been some hope as recently as last week that Bolland might soon return to practice with his teammates. That appears to have been optimistic. It’s also put in question whether he’ll join the team as planned on a four-game road trip that starts Monday in Phoenix.
As vibrant as Bolland appeared when he spoke with reporters on Saturday morning, there was a lot of pain in his words. He indicated that he has essentially been relearning how to pivot and cross over on his skates in these first on-ice sessions since Vancouver forward Zack Kassian accidentally cut him back on Nov. 2.
“It’s not fun, it’s gruelling,” said Bolland.
“You think some days you can push and then you push it too much and you set yourself behind,” he added. “You’re just hurting yourself. I think for myself it’s being patient.”
The Leafs seem to understand the importance of being patient as well, with coach Randy Carlyle indicating that Bolland won’t be back in the lineup until he is “100 per cent.” Just when that is remains anyone’s guess.
“We can’t afford to take any type of risk with this type of injury,” said Carlyle. “We all know that it’s a tough one to come back from – it’s a long tedious process – and specifically where it was and the tendon that was injury.
“It’s pretty dramatic.”
As good as Bolland was for the Leafs in the first 14 games and a period of the season, the impact of his absence has often been overstated in the city. The team was still plagued by all of the same problems then as it is now – namely not controlling enough of the game – but managed to squeak out a string of victories with him in the lineup.
The biggest reason GM Dave Nonis went out and traded for the two-time Stanley Cup winner last summer was to add a little more experience to the lineup – experience, at least in theory, which could shine through during the playoffs. At this point it looks like the best case scenario for the organization would be having Bolland return to play at some point after the Olympic break and round his way into form for the spring.
Of course, Toronto still has to find a way to qualify for the post-season. It’s going to be a tight race in the Eastern Conference that goes down to the wire.
However, the Leafs entered Saturday’s game against the Habs looking to win a fourth straight for the first time all season. Jonathan Bernier was expected to earn the start in goal against Carey Price and there was the possibility for some bad feelings stemming from the last meeting of the teams on Nov. 30.
Back then, the Toronto players were upset when Max Pacioretty celebrated his goal to make it 4-0 by putting his stick away like a dagger – although everyone seemed eager to downplay that storyline after the morning skate.
“That’s a long time ago,” said Carlyle.
Phil Kessel is on a four-game points streak for the Leafs and has 36 points in 42 career games vs. Montreal … Carey Price is one victory short of passing George Hainsworth for sixth overall in Canadiens history … Peter Holland miss Toronto’s morning skate because of the flu but was expected to play … The injured Habs include Alex Galchenyuk (hand), Davis Drewiske (shoulder) and Ryan White (upper body) … Montreal is 22-0-3 when leading after two periods … The Leafs have scored 45 per cent of their goals – 57 of 127 – in the second period of games … Leafs centre Nazem Kadri has scored just once in his last 16 games … Toronto has participated in 13 shootouts this season while the Habs have only been in six … PK Subban is fourth among NHL defencemen in scoring with 34 points … Toronto leads the league in hits (1,658) and fighting majors (33) … The teams have split two meetings so far this season … The next one comes March 1 at the Bell Centre.
“Hat trick and a great night in Montreal, but this will do. I can do a hat trick here (instead).” – Habs forward Joonas Nattinen on how he imagined his first NHL game, which he’ll play on Saturday night.
“I’m pretty confident right now and I know the two guys I play with are as well.” – Leafs centre Tyler Bozak, who has 11 points in his last nine games.