For many of the Nashville Predators the last two weeks have had nothing to do with gold. They’ve been more about blue, as in Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The two-week Olympic break provided ample time for many players such as Jerred Smithson, Joel Ward and Cody Franson to heal and to prepare their bodies for the remainder of the season.
“It came at a good time for me,” Smithson said on Thursday. “I’m trying to get this ankle better. With a few days off there, it got to feeling pretty good. I was skating the last couple days, but I just have been going at 75 percent or so. Today I went full out and it felt great.”
Smithson — who sat out the final two games before the break — and all of the other Predators currently on the active roster but not involved in the Olympics returned to the ice Thursday for their first formal workout before the NHL schedule resumes next week.
Nashville’s first post-Olympic contest this year (7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Edmonton) starts a stretch of 17 games in 29 days.
Franson missed the final six games prior to the Olympics with a broken rib sustained when a puck hit him. Thursday’s workout was his first with the team since he was injured.
Coach Barry Trotz said the rookie defenseman might miss one or two more games but that his return to the lineup is not far off.
“It feels a lot better and I’m getting a little more strength in it each day,” Franson said. “… I’m very fortunate. This was an injury that would have made me miss a lot of games had the break not happened then.”
Ward missed three games in late January and said he was at less than 100 percent in the final weeks before play was suspended.
“I’ve been battling injuries for a little bit,” Ward said. “I’ve had quite a few nicks and nacks and groins and wrists. I’m looking forward (to playing again). This is my favorite time of year.”
While the two-week break provides the opportunity for players to return to full heath — or close to it — it does not guarantee they will maintain it the rest of the way.
Whether due to the tight schedule following the break, some sort of loss of conditioning, or just plain bad luck, the last time that the Predators returned after an Olympic break (2006) they promptly were beset with a rash of injuries.
Defenseman Mark Eaton was hurt in the first post-Olympic contest that season and missed the next 12 games. Up to that point, he had missed just one. Center Yanic Perreault was hit with a knee strain in the second contest and missed 11 games. In the third game, defenseman Danny Markov bruised an ankle and missed 10 contests.
Then, of course, there is the possibility that those who have competed for the sport’s top international prize these last two weeks will come back with new injuries.
“The only concern I have is that they’re getting into the medal round right now and there’s guys playing hurt,” Trotz said. “You’re not going to find out about those injuries until after they get knocked out. … They’ll play through anything right now to try and win a gold medal.”
• Trotz said players who participated in the Olympics and whose teams have been eliminated have three days to themselves before they are expected to rejoin the team.
For Marcel Goc and Alexander Sulzer, who played for Germany and were eliminated Tuesday, that means they will be back in Nashville on Saturday. For Patric Hornqvist (Sweden) and Martin Erat (Czech Republic), whose teams fell in Wednesday’s quarterfinals, their report date is Sunday.
That leaves Ryan Suter (USA) and Shea Weber (Canada) keeping their gold-medal dreams alive for now in Vancouver.
• With the league’s trade deadline set for Wednesday and a freeze on all transactions during the Olympic break, there is likely to be a flurry of activity when dealing once again is allowed.
“I’m sure, behind the scenes there’s probably some deals that are already consummated and just can’t be announced,” Trotz said. “There’s a lot of GMs at the Olympics and … they’re working right through. They’re trying to get something done.”