DETROIT – Darren Helm experienced a setback at a limited optional practice late this afternoon at City Sports Arena, and Todd Bertuzzi said he’s still hopeful for a return this season, but the veteran forward knows that time is dwindling.
But in either case, it doesn’t look like they’ll return anytime soon to the Red Wings’ lineup. Both players are recovering from debilitating lower back pain.
The Red Wings had actually talked about having Helm back this week. But the speedy center, who coach Mike Babcock says is the best third-line center in the league, won’t be in Wednesday’s lineup when his teammates host the Minnesota Wild at Joe Louis Arena.
“Helm didn't last the skate today. Probably had a setback, there's no timeline,” Babcock said. “So he's just got to stay positive. … He's got to get through this and get healthy.”
Helm has played one game this season, and just four periods since last April. He suffered a sprained MCL last March and then a lacerated forearm in the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoff opener at Nashville. This year, he was injured while lifting weights prior to the team’s mini-training camp after the NHL lockout was resolved.
But Monday’s setback is just another in a long line of minor hurdles, said Helm who remains positive that he’ll be back before the season ends next month. Helm has been skating with the team over the last week, and joined his teammates on their trip to western Canada, where they took two out of three games.
“It didn’t feel too good, traveling, sitting down a lot, I don’t know if that was the cause of it,” he said. “We were pushing pretty hard on the ice and added in a few new exercises. I don’t know if it was one of the combinations of it all, but the last couple of days it’s just not feeling the way it was earlier after the shots. Hopefully this is just a minor, minor, minor setback.”
It’s too early to know if Helm will join the Wings on their upcoming nine-day trip to the West Coast beginning this Thursday.
“Every day like it has been, play it by ear and see how I feel,” Helm said. “At least do some stuff in the gym. I’ll take it slowly, like we have been doing and hopefully it keeps getting better.”
Meanwhile, Bertuzzi’s issues are anything but minor. Since a bulging disc in his lower back pinched a nerve on Feb. 7, he’s had problems with muscle atrophy. He's lost three-centimeters around his right thigh, which has zapped him of any strength and the ability to push off that leg. He tried skating on his own last week, but it didn’t go very well.
“It wasn’t strong enough and where it needs to be,” said Bertuzzi, who hasn’t played since the injury. “Unfortunately it’s just time. I don’t have an answer. I wish I did because that’s the frustrating part,” said Bertuzzi, who hasn’t played since a bulging disc flared up on Feb. 7. “If you have a knee injury or something you know how long it’s going to take, but when it’s the back you have no clue.”
The disc between the L3 and L4 vertebrae in his lower back pinched a nerve, which caused excruciating pain that sent Bertuzzi to the hospital, where he stayed for four days. The pain is so intolerable that it’s left the 6-foot-3, 245-pound forward nearly immobile at times for more than a month.
Bertuzzi said he felt the pain coming on during a game in St. Louis last month. The pain was accompanied by a loss of strength and numbness, he said.
“It got tweaked or whatever, but by the third period I lost all feeling and everything in my right leg,” Bertuzzi said. “I had not strength and after the game it got worse and worse and by the time I got home I was done. I went to the hospital ... kind of been every two weeks getting needles and resting.
Going to the hospital was the last resort, Bertuzzi said, because it “Was the only thing that would control the pain. Everything kind of came down the front and all that. No pills could really take away the pain so I went there.”
Bertuzzi missed five months of the 2006-07 season after he underwent the first of two disc laminectomy surgeries. He’s like to avoid a third, if at all possible.
“I’d like to get back because the only other option is going to get it fixed. That’s where I’m at right now,” he said. “I’m going to try and rehab and get it strong enough and back to being strong enough to where I can play. I don’t want to play one game and be back to where I’ve been. I want to be able to last the remainder of the games.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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