Steve Sullivan needs time.
The Nashville Predators’ veteran forward is close to returning from a groin injury, which has kept him out of action for more than a month. It just is going to take just a little longer — probably until next week — until he is ready once again to play in games.
The 36-year-old does not want to wait too much longer, though. He also needs time to get himself into shape for what he expects to be the franchise’s next playoff appearance.
“You don’t want to come back with five or 10 games left in the season and then try to get in shape and think you’re going to be ready for the playoffs,” Sullivan said Wednesday morning. “To be even with these guys and back to playing at the same level, you’re going to need quite a few games to kind of get back in shape. And then you want to get comfortable out there.
“Me coming back in the next week is the goal, and I think by doing so it will give me a lot of time to be ready.”
That means he will not play Thursday night when the Predators play the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Philadelphia Flyers on the road (6 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) or Saturday at home in the first of two games in five days against the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
When it comes to dealing with this particular injury, though, Sullivan speaks from experience. Groin troubles are nothing new to him.
“I’ve had groins my whole career,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s chronic now. I think … it pulls and then it just won’t go away because it’s been in that state for so long. I need to try to break that cycle.”
The game at Philadelphia will be the 18th straight he has missed. That makes his the second-longest sustained absence this season for Nashville, a team which has faced more than its share of injuries. Only Matthew Lombardi, out since Oct. 14 with a concussion, has missed more time.
Sullivan had 10 points in the last 14 games before he was hurt and was one of the team’s top scorers. His 10 goals this season still rank fourth.
Initial estimates were that he would have been back in the lineup well before now.
“It just hasn’t really gone away so we’re going to push through it,” he said. “It seems like the more I stretch it, the more I use it, the better it feels. We just keep taking strides so that when I go out there I’m not going to worry about it.”
He practiced with the team Monday and Wednesday and did so without any setbacks. When he does get back in the lineup, his experience ought to serve him well once again.
“He’ll manage his game a little more because he knows what he’s capable of and what he can get away with and what he can’t — the smarts take over a little bit,” coach Barry Trotz said. “That part of the game will be easy for him.
“The pure battle and the pure explosiveness of the game — that’s where he’ll have to catch up.”
While it seems likely the Predators will see him back in uniform soon, there is the possibility that his injury history ultimately will catch up to him — for good.
Sullivan is in the final year of a two-year contract, and only once since 2005-06 has he played at least 70 games in a season. Of course, he missed nearly two full calendar years during that stretch with a back injury.
That history combined with his age might significantly limit interest in him this offseason.
“I can’t worry about what other people think,” he said. “I’m worried about trying to get back and trying to help the hockey club. That’s all I can worry about.
“I just want to play.”
The sooner the better, as far as he’s concerned.