TORONTO, Ontario - While most of his teammates embarked on vacations to sunny southern destinations over the Olympic break, David Bolland - out of the lineup since suffering a severed tendon in his left ankle on November 2 in Vancouver - headed to London, Ontario instead to continue his rehab with his old junior team, the London Knights. Although head coach Randy Carlyle jokingly wondered how much actual training Bolland got done while in London.
"I don't know how much training goes on when you go back to the junior team that you played for so I wouldn't read too much into that," laughed Carlyle after the Maple Leafs were put through an up-tempo practice that concluded with a 10-minute bag skate on Thursday. "I was in London once at a bar called "Joe Cools" and they have numerous stools there that have players' names on them that I've coached, and he's one of them."
In all seriousness though, that Bolland has put himself in a position to even discuss a potential return just 110 days since suffering a laceration that he said went right through the muscle and tendon in his ankle, nearly down to the bone, is a remarkable feat of determination that has not been lost on his coach.
"The level of professionalism that he displays day in, day out right from when we first saw him in training camp, that has continued here," said Carlyle. "He's pushing himself and with the help of our training staff and our strength and conditioning (coaches), he's done a heck of a job to get himself back where he is now."
So where exactly is he? Neither Carlyle nor Bolland would pin down a specific return date but Bolland did sound more encouraged with his progress than he did when he offered his last update on February 5 in Tampa Bay.
"I'm close, it's getting there," he said on Thursday. "I'm on my way upwards."
Carlyle suggested yesterday that a decision would be made next Wednesday as to whether Bolland will dress when the Leafs resume their schedule against the New York Islanders on February 27.
"Ah, we'll see," Bolland added when asked if he expects to play against the Islanders.
His impending return was welcomed news to Dion Phaneuf.
"That's a very big boost," said the Leafs captain. "Bolland's an experienced guy who's played a lot of hockey in the league. He's a big part of our team. He's big in the room; he's big on the ice. He's a leader in our dressing room and he plays hard night in and night out so we're excited to get him back."
But despite just 22 regular season games remaining for the Leafs, Bolland will not be re-inserted until he declares himself ready.
"When he says he's ready to go, that's one of the things we're adamant about here is that the player is not going to come back and say he's 85 per cent and we're going to put him in the lineup," Carlyle said. "He's got to tell us he's 100/110 per cent and then we're ready to go. That makes it a lot easier for everybody involved."
When Bolland was injured, he was playing on a line with Mason Raymond and David Clarkson. Since then, Clarkson has been moved to a line with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri which Carlyle indicated he has been pleased with. At this point, consider it audition time for the right wing spot with leading candidates likely being Nik Kulemin and Troy Bodie.
"We think that Bolland and Mason Raymond and whoever we decide to put there could give us a 2A and 2B type of offensive numbers," said Carlyle.
But don't expect too much too soon when Bolland does return, Carlyle cautioned, suggesting he will keep an eye on his minutes and potentially avoid penalty killing duties early on.
"I don't think I'll be stepping into the same role as I was at the start of the season," Bolland said. "I missed two and a half, three months of hockey and just coming back and throwing yourself in the mix is never fun. It's tough coming back from injuries and coming back will be something where I'll be eased in and not just thrown to the wolves. My expectations will be a little bit lower but gradually (after) the first two or three games, I'll be back in the mix."
The chance to get Bolland back for the stretch drive, whether it's in the first game back against the Islanders or a few games later, is an addition that Carlyle feels will have a significant impact on the team, almost akin to a trade deadline acquisition without giving anything up.
"Anytime you can add a player of that caliber, it does change the makeup of your lineup," said Carlyle. "We lost two centres (Bozak and Bolland) early in November and we've been taxing people and putting younger players in situations that have somewhat overwhelmed them at times. We feel it's a huge compliment to the depth of our organization that our young players have come in and filled that gap. There's no ifs, ands or buts adding a David Bolland, we feel it has an impact into our line up."