Matthew Lombardi is feeling better. Much better.
Will he be on hand when the Leafs open training camp opens in a month? Even he doesn’t know.
But in steady, subtle way, the question of Lombardi’s status as a Maple Leaf seems to have shifted from if toward when.
“Things are going really well the last six weeks,” he said. “The last two to three weeks in particular there have been a lot of positives.”
“I wish I could have a day or timeline on when I come back but I can’t,” he said. “I am starting to do light exercise which is huge for me and I have been getting really good results.”
Since he was acquired along with defenceman Cody Franson
July 3, Lombardi has made the first day of training camp, September 16, his target.
“I believe in setting goals and reporting to camp has always been what I was aiming for,” he said.
Leafs GM Brian Burke said he will “err on the side of caution,” but expects Lombardi to be at training camp.
Naturally, there is no way to forecast whether the next month will bring good or bad news. Lombardi was injured in October, 2010 when he slid into the boards and missed 80 games. Even if he is good to go for the exhibition season, he will be light years behind his teammates in conditioning. Still…
“Since October I really haven’t been able to do anything that would get my heart rate up. I’m not doing any heavy weightlifting but now I am able to a little bit that’s more sports-specific.”
Thanks to advances in medical technologies, injuries that used to end careers have largely become speed bumps. Knees are regularly reconstructed. In baseball, Tommy John surgery has become routine.
That progress means predictable recovery times. Even casual fans are learning ACL means the anterior cruciate ligament and that a torn ACL means six months to a year off.
But each new story of head injuries underscores how the brain heals at a unique, erratic pace.
“If you have knee surgery you pretty well know the timeline you can follow to get back,” Lombardi said. “Obviously, this is very different.”
Knowing how long a concussed player will stay in the lineup is as hard to determine as how long it will take him to get there.
For every Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine there are players such as Tim Connolly
or Boston’s Patrice Bergeron who returned from long layoffs to resume their careers without further concussions.
While he has never threatened the list of NHL top scorers, Lombardi’s elite speed makes him a very good player who can supercharge any line. Over his last couple of years, Lombardi’s hands seem to have caught up to his feet and the season before his injury he tallied a career – high 53 points for Phoenix.
A tenacious player, Lombardi could be promoted to the first line in the event of injury to the oft-hurt Connolly. His presence on one of the Leafs’ two top lines and on the penalty kill would swing the trade of Lombardi and Cody Franson
in exchange for Robert Slaney and Brett Lebda from one-sided to ludicrous.
Meanwhile Lombardi, who summers in Hudson near Montreal, is enthused about the Leafs who also added Connolly and defenceman John-Michael Liles
“I see a lot of potential. I know players say that at this time of year but this is a team that played very well down the stretch. I see a lot of depth with the moves they have made in the off-season.”
Lombardi sees blue skies for his game once his head clears.
“I have a lot of time to get better as a player. I see myself as a player who can contribute offensively but still is good at both ends.”