Sore ankle sidelines Gagner

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

There's nothing like spending three months trying to get out of first gear, only to discover, once you're finally picking up speed, that one of your wheels is shot.

That's the latest frustration for poor Sam Gagner, who spent the first day after the all-star break hauling his lemon of a season back into the shop.

First the hands, now the ankle.

A year that was supposed to be bursting with promise for the marquee sophomore began instead with a sputter, a cloud of black smoke and a pace so slow that snails were giving him the finger.

And now he's been shut down altogether.

He's a spectator, sidelined by an ankle injury, until further notice.

Concerned that five days of rest during the all-star break didn't alleviate his pain whatsoever, the Oilers decided to shelve him for at least 10 days. Maybe two weeks. Maybe more.

"It's an inexact science to predict how it's going to respond to the treatments," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who finally had some balanced scoring going, with Ales Hemsky on the first line and Gagner and Erik Cole clicking rather well on the second.

LINGER

"Having had ankle injuries in the past, they linger. It takes a long time for them to completely recover, to feel 100%.

"We're hopeful he'll be ready to play in the not too distant future, but he's a couple of weeks away."

Gagner, who wrenched the ankle in a November practice, had been playing through the pain ever since. He wrenched it again in Edmonton's last game before the break, and it hurt just as badly five days later.

An MRI revealed no structural damage, just a bone bruise and ligament strains, but it's not getting any better, and a one-legged teenager won't do anyone much good down the stretch.

"Sometimes it gives out," said Gagner. "It's mostly going into battles where I feel it. Obviously, that's a big part of the game.

"You have to go into those tough areas to score goals in this league and I wouldn't say I was hesitant, but obviously it's in the back of your mind.

TIME

"Hopefully I can let it heal now and get it out of my head. Taking the time to let it heal is really the best course of action right now."

It's probably the only course of action right now, dispiriting as it might be for a 19-year-old who still hasn't reached his age in points this season.

"I could maybe play through it now and risk hurting it some more, and be hesitant going into battles," he said.

"But at the end of the day you want to be playing in the pressure situations when the team needs you most. Going down the stretch, that's when I want to be in and I want to be healthy at that time.

"I have to put a positive spin on it. I have to take the time to get in really good shape and come back ready to go. This is a good time. Hopefully, I can let it heal and get back for the really important games down the stretch."

It's never a good time to lose a second-line centre, but MacTavish thinks Gagner could return a much better player than when he left, since the ankle had to be affecting his play this year.

"I think greatly -- probably more than he would admit," said the coach.

"You can see it from behind the bench, he comes off a couple of times a game (in pain). You try to make a move and you get a shooting pain up your leg, it just stops you.

"It's definitely had an impact on his game, a pretty significant impact. We have to try to get it sorted out."


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