Dave Bolland is skating again.
That's significant progress more than two months after Zack Kassian's left skate blade severed a tendon in the back of Bolland's left ankle. But the Toronto Maple Leafs centre still doesn't know when he'll return to practice, let alone game action.
"Who knows?" Bolland said Saturday after skating solo for the fourth time this week. "I want to be out there with the guys, and I want to skate with them. That's the next goal."
That's a reasonable goal but not one the Leafs are going to rush toward, even though Bolland will miss his 35th game Saturday night and likely several more. Toronto is 14-15-5 since Bolland went out, but coach Randy Carlyle affirmed that the 27-year-old won't be back until he's 100 per cent.
"We can't afford to take any type of risk with this type of injury," Carlyle said. "We all know that it's a tough one to come back from. It's a long, tedious process, and specifically where it was in the tendon that was injured, it's pretty dramatic."
Bolland knows all too well just how long and tedious this process has been. He wasn't able to put weight on the ankle for a long time and only this week was able to get his foot in a specially-designed boot and get back on the ice.
"It's a slow rehab," Bolland said in his first comments to reporters since November. "It's not like any other rehab when you break an ankle and you can just say six weeks and you're back and it's healed. You cut a tendon and it's got to re-heal itself. You've got to do the rehab, do the movements in with the trainers and in at the gym. It's not fun. It's gruelling."
The gruelling part isn't just physical pain, it's the mental anguish of the man who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Chicago Blackhawks knowing he can't help his hometown team while sitting out.
Bolland said he has gotten "a little mentally broken down" along the way.
"When you're watching and you're off the ice it does screw with your head a lot, mentally, because I think when you cut a tendon, it's a big deal," he said. "You never know."
Bolland still doesn't know. All that he can recall is how Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson returned 10 weeks after having his Achilles tendon sliced and the struggles Mike Modano dealt with when he had a similar injury.
The Toronto native didn't consult with Karlsson or Modano about their experiences, but he knows what they went through.
"I remember (Modano) saying that it wasn't fun coming back from that," Bolland said. "I could feel that pain, too."
Physically, Bolland still feels the pain. He hopes the good days outweigh the bad as he works back.
"It gets sore once in a while when I'm on the ice," Bolland said. "When you're skating, you're doing cross-overs, you're stopping, when you're using that tendon, you're going to feel the pain and you're going to have some situations like that."
Bolland said he's learning how to do everything all over again because of how long he has been kept off the ice. While away, he was able to do off-ice workouts, but nothing compares to skating.
Skating with teammates would put him another step closer. It's possible Bolland goes on the Leafs' upcoming Western Conference road trip, but Carlyle said that decision had not been made yet.
Bolland, who had six goals and four assists in his first 15 games with the Leafs, wants to go. But he understands the need for caution.
"You want to be out there," he said. "You think some days you can push it and you push it too much and you set yourself behind. You're just hurting yourself. I think for myself it's being patient and being ready when I'm ready."
Notes — Leafs centre Peter Holland wasn't feeling well and was given Saturday's morning skate off. Carlyle said he expects Holland to play against the Montreal Canadiens. ... Toronto recalled forward Troy Bodie from the AHL, and he's expected to replace the injured David Clarkson in the lineup.