Darryl Sutter revealed that Marian Gaborik skated on his own at Toyota Sports Center this morning, but with only six games remaining in the regular season and more boxes to be checked off in advance of a return, there is no clear picture on when or whether the skilled winger would be available for selection during early Stanley Cup Playoffs action.
“He skated a little bit today, but until he puts the gear on, there’s no magic or mystery to it,” Sutter said. “When you have a Grade 3 sprain, then there’s a timeline for healing, and with healing is therapy. Once therapy’s over, then that gives coaches the reign on when he could play. So I would say I have no idea.”
A Grade 3 sprain, compared to a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 sprain, is the most severe, and early in the rehabilitation process, Gaborik shared with FOX Sports West’s Alex Curry that he was given a preliminary 10-to-12 week diagnosis following his February 12 collision with New York Rangers forward Dominic Moore. Given that range – and that range can change over time – the general ballpark of a return would be between April 22 and May 6, while the playoffs begin the week of April 11. Last week, Sutter had downplayed any chance of a return during the regular season (which would have come with its own set of LTIR and financial complications; the salary cap is irrelevant in the playoffs).
“As coaches and players, you’re always leaning towards when they say when it’s ‘six-to-eight’ or whatever it is, well, that’s a big difference,” Sutter said. “That’s a series, and there’s no way a player, unless he can play regular season games, I have no interest in playing him in the playoffs. None. We’ve done that before, and if you’d look back and just in the past accomplishments of this team, if you look back it, it’s very difficult to put players in [that haven’t played regular season games after their injury]. … And as you go into March, there’s a whole another level of play, so there’s a whole next part, too.”
Sutter prefers to categorize players’ availability by “healthy,” “day-to-day,” “long-term” and “injured reserve.” There is also another linear if imprecise process undertaken by those trying to work back from injury. Players don’t simply immediately make a surprise return to the lineup, but rather gradually work back to game action after having completed a checklist that includes but isn’t limited to skating on their own, skating at the end of a team practice, skating in a limited capacity in practice, participating fully in practice, and finally being cleared to play.
That checklist isn’t relevant to Sutter at this moment. “He doesn’t have one, because it’s not in our hands yet,” Sutter said. “When they say there’s a circled date, I want to know that date. I don’t want to know that ‘six-to-eight’ stuff. That, to me, is irrelevant. That’s a series.”
Gaborik, capable of spreading opposing teams out because of his speed and skill, has 12 goals and 22 points in 54 games this season. Though he has an injury history, he has appeared in a higher percentage of possible games in Los Angeles than he had in earlier stops in his career, and was injured while playing his 99th consecutive game for the team.
Of course, recoveries and timelines are different, and the possibility and thrill of playing in the postseason is not lost on Gaborik, who had told FOX Sports West that he’s “looking forward to some playoff hockey.”
“I think every player’s different,” Sutter said. “We’ve been around guys – I’ve played with and coached with guys that try to stretch out as much as they can, and I’ve played and coached with guys that try and get back as quick as they can.”