NEW YORK — Michael Stone never worried that his game would diminish after surgery to repair a torn left ACL and MCL in April. Doctors told him the procedure had a high success rate.
It was the seven months of rehabbing and waiting to get back in the lineup that wore the Coyotes defenseman down.
“It sucks watching,” said Stone, who was back in the lineup on Friday against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn after a seven-month absence.
At least Stone had some distractions. In the span of the last four months, he got back on the ice for the first time, signed a one-year, $4 million contract and welcomed twins as training camp was nearing its end.
“It seemed to all come in a big wave,” he said. “It was just a whirlwind really.”
Stone played alongside new partner Alex Goligoski on the Coyotes’ second defensive pairing against New York and logged 20:28 of ice time. Barring the trade for a top-four right-handed defenseman that GM John Chayka has been eyeing since his hiring last May, this was the combination the Coyotes envisioned when the season started.
Stone’s return allowed Luke Schenn to drop to the third pairing alongside rookie Jakob Chychrun, with Kevin Connauton and Jamie McBain the odd men out and Oliver Ekman-Larsson still playing with Connor Murphy.
The Coyotes also waived defenseman Jarred Tinordi, who was eligible to come off suspension on Sunday. He will report to Tucson after clearing waivers and the eight-man defensive roster appears set for now, although having two players sit out regularly is not ideal.
Stone had surgery about seven months ago after getting his left leg tangled with Philadelphia’s Michael Raffl in late March. He was coming off a career-best season in points (36), assists (30), shots on goal (161) and average time on ice (22:28), but with his health in question, the Coyotes were only willing to sign him to a one-year deal this summer when he was a restricted free agent as they waited to see if he could return to full strength.
“I never thought this was going to hinder me in any way,” said Stone, who is wearing a knee brace. “I never thought, ‘oh I’m going to be a different player coming back. I feel the same. I just have extra gear to put on.”
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was surprised by what he saw on Friday.
“I thought he did very well for a first game in a long time,” Tippett said. “You’re happy for a guy like that. He’s gone through everything from a very severe knee injury to having twins to contract negotiations He’s had a long go so it’s good to see get back on the ice and play.”
Tippett said the Coyotes had been thinking about the move for a couple days.
“We thought about Sunday (against the Rangers) but with it being a team day off tomorrow, we might as well throw him in and he’s got a day to rest it,” Tippett said.
At media day before training camp, Stone said he thought the rehab was harder on him than the injury and the surgery.
“That first couple days after surgery, you’re like ‘I have lost everything in my left leg — like I can’t even do anything,'” he said.
He also admitted it was an adjustment returning to the ice after such a long layoff.
“It all felt fast to me,” he said. “I don’t know how I looked but it was quick.”
The Coyotes could use an injection of energy and ability after starting this six-game road trip with three straight losses, but Stone tapped the brakes on the idea his return will provide the tonic the Coyotes need.
“It’s tough to watch at any time, but it’s tough to watch when you know that you could go in and try and make a difference,” he said. “I can be part of a solution. I am not going to be any savior, by any means.”
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