Injured Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has been skating for weeks, eager and hopeful for a postseason return after his season once appeared lost due to ACL/MCL surgery.
The progression, even just over the last seven days, has been remarkable.
Seidenberg has not yet taken contact. He's skating in the middle of the ice while the rest of the team does drills.— Amalie Benjamin (@AmalieBenjamin) May 5, 2014
Dennis Seidenberg was 1st Bruins skater on ice for non-contact morning skate at the Bell Centre. Continues to put the work in #BruinsTalk— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) May 6, 2014
Seidenberg has stepped up his Involvement in practice in recent days, including doing PK work at yesterday's morning skate. Still no contact— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) May 9, 2014
And, then, today at the Bell Centre in advance of tonight’s Game 6…
As usual, good eye by Bob Beers. Some late contact for Dennis Seidenberg. First time.— Fluto Shinzawa (@GlobeFluto) May 12, 2014
There’s no questioning Seidenberg’s work ethic, that’s for damn sure. The blue-liner has regularly been Boston’s first player on the ice for practices and pre-game skates, but always free of contact until today.
As his young teammates have struggled in his absence against the Canadiens, particularly Matt Bartkowski and Andrej Meszaros, coach Claude Julien must internally be begging for the opportunity to insert Seidenberg into the lineup.
General manager Peter Chiarelli has declined comment along the way, though it’s getting harder and harder to believe the veteran defensive force and physical bruiser will sit on the press level much longer should the B’s advance past the Habs to the conference finals, much to my predictive chagrin.
However, that would be a mistake.
As I wrote about six weeks ago, when this scenario seemed like the longest of long-shots, Seidenberg’s future health is just as important as the team’s present-day chances of capturing a second Stanley Cup in four years. He’s an investment, on the books for four more years with an annual cap hit of $4 million.
Clearly, Chiarelli, Julien, and the rest of the Bruins’ brass realize this. They’d never in a billion years consider playing Seidenberg before doctors deem him ready. If it's possible to be better than 100 percent, the defenseman will have to be viewed as such in order to take the ice in a postseason affair.
But, even if the medical staff does sign off on Black and Gold stationary, the risk outweighs the reward and it’s far more important to be cautious.
Despite the advances in modern medicine, it’s unnatural – even for freaks of nature like Seidenberg – to return from ACL/MCL tears just more than four months later (the estimated recovery time after suffering the injury on Dec. 27 and having surgery on Jan. 7 was six-to-eight months). Perhaps, maybe, this might make sense late in the regular season – had he been hurt earlier, of course – as a postseason tune-up, but the playoffs are an entirely different animal. These aren’t preseason games. Everything is on the line.
He’s 32 years old. In tip-top physical condition, the injury aside, but he’s no spring chicken. The postseason is physically and emotionally grueling and the potential for re-injury is substantial for someone who logs the kind of minutes Seidenberg plays. He wouldn’t dress to play 12 minutes; he’d see double that ice-time. How quickly could he work through the rust and get back into game-shape and move at game-speed? That in mind, would he instantly be a better option than the faster albeit mistake-prone Bartkowski?
Many will say "yes" to that last question, and do so without hesitation. They’re probably right, given what we’ve seen so far.
But the Bruins have reached this point, a win away from facing either the Penguins (questions in net) or Rangers (questions on offense) for a return trip to the Cup Final. They can survive without him, in hopes of having similar success with him for years to come.
The discussions will continue. Seidenberg will, barring a setback, start taking more contact by the day. If his replacements are still shaky going forward, organizational pressure could mount.
It’s not an easy decision, but the Bruins should leave Seidenberg right where he is: practicing, improving, and motivated. Oh, and likely to be in the best shape of his career come training camp.
Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman
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