Will Philadelphia Flyers All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger be healthy at the start of the 2011-12 season? He's got lots of talents, but predicting the future isn't one of them.
"I can't tell you," he told reporters on a conference call Thursday. "I'm not Kreskin. I can't look into the future and tell you what's going to happen or not happen. Time is really all you can have -- time and patience."
Pronger had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back May 12, and said he won't be able to do much in the way of rehabilitation for about another month.
However, he said the pain in his back and leg that sidelined him for the final three games of the Flyers' Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Boston Bruins is gone.
"They removed the impingement that is pushing against the nerve root in order to alleviate -- we can call it vibrations, sensations, weakness -- that you have in your leg," he said. "The reason you want to do it as quickly as possible from what I got from my meeting with the doctor was you don't want the nerve exposed to that too long. It just creates more and more damage and you want that nerve to be able to regenerate so that you can get as much strength back as possible.
"As far as I was told it (the surgery) went very well. It relieved a lot of the weakness I was having in my leg and now it is just a matter of how the nerve regenerates itself and the range of motion and all the rest of that stuff. How it recovers and that stuff are probably another 4-5 weeks before we see where that is at."
In 17 NHL seasons, this is the first time Pronger has had a major back issue. He said if he wanted to continue playing, surgery was a necessity.
"It was an option, but in order for me to try and play hockey again it was pretty cut and dry," he said. "I could have went through the whole summer rehab and get another steroid injection and see if that calms the nerve down, but it was a pretty bad herniated disc. The odds of it becoming an issue again were very high."
The back procedure was the fourth operation for Pronger in a 10-month span. He had surgery on his right knee in August, his right foot in January and his right hand in March. He was limited to 50 games in the regular season and three in the playoffs. It's the fewest games he's played in a season since 2002-03 with St. Louis, when knee and wrist issues limited him to just five games.
While Pronger is recovering from his back problem, he's also still rehabilitating his hand injury.
"I am actually doing that right now, as we speak," he said of his hand work. "I've got different things that I do on the days when I am not doing hand therapy with a hand specialist. Just continue to try to gain strength back and work on my hand to try to get it back to where it needs to be to play the game properly. It's the same answer basically for my back -- time heals most wounds. I am sure a long summer of rehab and whatnot will get that back to where it needs to be play at a high level, hold my stick, and do all the rest of those things the way I need to be a good hockey player."
And he said he plans on being a good hockey player for at least a few more seasons. His contract with the Flyers runs through the 2016-17 season, when he'll be 42.
"I felt good when I played this year," he said. "That's the funny thing -- every time I started to feel better and started to get my feet underneath me and get back into the groove, I had another injury. … Mentally I feel like I can play. When I was healthy, my play speaks for itself. It's a matter of staying healthy. This year was very tough. Every time I turned around I had another injury. It wasn't like it was a bump and a bruise, it was something broken that needed surgery to fix. That can be a little disappointing and frustrating, when you know you can still play at a high level and your play speaks to that and you're not able to go out and play. That's tough, especially when you feel like you can add another element to the team when you're out there. Mentally I've got a lot left; it's how my back feels. Basically, if the surgery works and I am able to train properly and get healthy, I don't see why I can't continue to play as long as I want, as long as everything else holds up."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.