For the past few weeks, the pattern had been the same.

Clarke MacArthur would stay on the ice for an extra 15 or 20 minutes after his teammates had finished practising.

Drenched in sweat, the veteran forward would sit at his stall and readily answer the same line of questioning from reporters.

“When are you coming back?”

“How are you feeling?”

“Have you passed your baseline test?”

The affable MacArthur never once seemed inconvenienced with the line of questioning, often joking that chatting with reporters was one of the things he missed while out of the lineup. When you spoke to MacArthur, his return date to the team was always a moving target; it started with the bye week in January. Then it shifted to the middle of the month. Or perhaps, just after the All-Star break.

The pattern was the same and the answers were somewhat predictable. He was feeling great and the return date was always about two-to-four weeks away.

But in the past few days, the pattern shifted and there was a different feel around MacArthur.

It started when MacArthur didn’t accompany his teammates on this current three-game road trip. Then coach Guy Boucher gave an ominous answer to a question about MacArthur’s status while the club was in St. Louis on Tuesday.

The usually forthcoming and honest Boucher gave the first hint that MacArthur may have had a setback or received some negative news. He deflected any update on MacArthur to his general manager by saying, “Pierre has got all of the information to be honest with you. I got parts of it. There were tests, but now they need to move to the next steps, so I’m a bit lost in it to be honest with you.”

The optimism around his potential return was starting to evaporate into thin air and on Friday morning, general manager Pierre Dorion opened a media session in Toronto with a statement that he hoped to never utter this season.

“After many discussions with many doctors, we’ve decided that Clarke MacArthur will not play this year,” Dorion said flatly. “Clarke is devastated by this news.”

MacArthur is distraught over this turn of events because he was symptom-free for several weeks, never reporting any of the usual discomfort or post-concussion feelings – even after the intensity was increased in his workload both on and off the ice.

While he declined to get into specifics on the medical front, Dorion emphasized that several doctors – including those independent from the Senators organization – came to the conclusion that MacArthur should not lace up his skates again this season.

“He says he’s felt great for a long time, so this came to us as a bit of a shock,” admitted Dorion. “But we have a responsibility as an organization, as a hockey team and as a league. We follow protocols and when numerous doctors suggest he should not play hockey this year, we’re just going to follow that protocol.”

Some have suggested that MacArthur boarded a flight to Florida this week, desperately seeking another medical opinion – perhaps one that would give him the clearance to return. But after listening to Dorion speak on Friday, there is zero chance the club will budge on this stance, regardless of what any other opinions come into their front office in the days ahead.

“I think in the long term of this process, we always said that the doctors would decide whether Clarke would play,” said Dorion.

MacArthur’s concussion woes in Ottawa started with a violent goalmouth collision with then-teammate Robin Lehner and Carolina’s Jay McClement in a game in February 2015. Since then, MacArthur has only suited up for 19 games after suffering multiple concussions in the interim. His training camp was derailed this season when he was concussed after a hit from teammate Patrick Sieloff during a scrimmage.

The Senators front office has known about this latest news on MacArthur for a few days, keeping it as quiet as possible. Dorion and Boucher met with several key players this week to inform them of the news that MacArthur would not be returning this season. The general manager admits the loss of MacArthur will be significant inside the room, since the players “loved him like a brother.”

The club has extended an invitation to MacArthur to join the team for the remainder of the season. His positive demeanour and veteran leadership would always be welcomed inside the locker room and on the road, although nobody would begrudge MacArthur if he politely declined the invitation. After all, he worked so hard to get to this point that being around his teammates on a daily basis may simply serve as a cruel reminder of what could have been for the 31-year-old forward.

And in the cold, calculated world of the National Hockey League, Dorion and the Senators now have the unenviable task of moving on from MacArthur. A club that is already thin up front will almost surely add another piece up front. The general manager met with his scouts and hockey operations department in Fort Lauderdale last week and openly discussed the possibility of needing to replace MacArthur.

“We prepared for every scenario. We prepared for this scenario when it happened at camp. We’ve had many talks with many teams about players,” said Dorion. “I’ve put off some things because I thought we owed it to Clarke to give him the best chance to succeed when he came back, but I’m sure after this news comes out today I’ll be fielding many calls.”

Dorion was asked if MacArthur is now ready to retire – or is still holding out hope on returning next season.

“Once we get to the summer and next year, we’ll see where we’re at,” added Dorion, declining to definitively shut the door on MacArthur’s career. “Clarke has indicated that he wants to play, but at the end of the day, the doctors are always going to have the final word.”

After what we heard from Senators general manager today, you can’t help but feel like the doctors gave their final word on MacArthur, not only for this season but for the future as well.