People have lauded Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as the owner of mythical healing powers because he recovered fully from an ACL/MCL tear in late December 2011, and then returned for a full workload the following season without missing a beat. His first NFL game back was in September 2012, a full nine months later.
Similarly, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III tore his ACL in January 2012, then returned eight months later in the normal recovery timetable of 6-9 months following surgery, with an optimal playing level achieved again roughly 12 months following surgery.
That should shed some perspective on realistic expectations and reachable goals when it comes to Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and his remarkable recovery from ACL/MCL surgery on his right knee. Seidenberg sustained the injury in late December and went under the knife in the first week of January.
Here’s what is true to this point: Seidenberg was on the exercise bike within days after the January surgery. The German defenseman is a physical marvel when it comes to fitness, conditioning and work ethic, and he took a few twirls on the ice for the first time Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass.
The skate was a big step, but only the first step in a long, deliberate recovery process from major knee surgery.
“[Seidenberg] was on the ice, but he’s a long way away,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We need to be careful that we don’t get all excited about this because in [Seidenberg’s] case he’s just starting to skate. With the injury he’s had, he’s not even close to be able to handle somebody pushing on him, or being able to take a hit, or anything like that.
“It’s a long-term injury and obviously it’s going to take a while to rehab. It was more out of boredom that he was strong enough to skate on his own, but that’s all that this was.”
The good news for Seidenberg: NHL players tend to return a little more quickly from ACL surgery than their football brethren. Take Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg, for instance.
The winger tore his ACL in the middle of March 2013 and was cleared to play in preseason games this past September. That’s roughly a six-month recovery from the knee surgery and it’s precisely what Seidenberg should be looking at as a realistic goal.
Perhaps even more interesting, San Jose Sharks energy forward Raffi Torres is a case that points toward Seidenberg potentially readying for a return in the postseason. Torres ripped up his ACL in September, had surgery in the final week of that month and returned to the San Jose lineup on Feb. 27 – a mere five months after surgery to repair the ligament.
Seidenberg tore his knee in a blowout victory over the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 27 when tiny Cory Conacher fell on his right leg. The stalwart B’s defenseman had surgery in the first week of January. A conservatively realistic timetable for him would have him potentially cleared to play at some point in early July.
A rapid recovery along the timetable of Torres would have Seidenberg potentially ready to play five months after his surgery, and right around the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final in early June.
While a return prior to that date might be possible, it would likely be the fastest any athlete in the four major pro sports has ever returned from an ACL/MCL surgery. That would seem like a big gamble with a core player such as Seidenberg, who is important to the future of the B’s franchise over the next five years.
A return prior to the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t seem very likely no matter what kind of German engineering Seidenberg boasts in his body. It certainly puts at risk a player that’s signed with the Bruins for the next four years beyond this one. Seidenberg will obviously push to return as early as he possibly can, but it would be prudent for the Bruins to tread carefully with the situation.
It makes little sense to rush Seidenberg into the heat of the final playoff rounds after not having played for the previous five months and it makes no sense if the Bruins have a healthy, intact defenseman corps that’s brought them to that point. It would be akin to asking a player to jump on a fast-moving train and there’s not a high success rate when it comes to doing that.
One can see a scenario where injuries and Stanley Cup playoff attrition bite deep into Boston’s D-man depth, and Seidenberg is needed after three rounds of playoff battle. That’s the precise set of circumstances where it makes the most sense to insert Seidenberg if he’s ready.
But the Bruins should be careful to make certain they're not pushing too hard on a player that lives and dies for the playoffs. Seidenberg isn’t going to want to take “no” for an answer, but that might just be the wisest answer for both the player, and a team that desperately misses him.
Hope isn’t a bad thing when it comes to Seidenberg and a potential return from his knee surgery, but re-injury and chronic knee problems are something they’d do well to avoid.