Wellwood leaves too many questions

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

The lower abdomen injury that has placed Kyle Wellwood's progress on hold is the latest in a series of medical mysteries that have plagued John Ferguson's time as general manager of the Maple Leafs.

This one may be no one's fault. This one may be someone's fault. Right now, with Wellwood out for a month and his case certainly not being considered normal for this kind of injury, it's impossible to know.

What we do know is this: The most promising of all Toronto's young forwards underwent surgery last season, which was conducted by a world-class specialist in the area of sports hernias. And last Saturday, Wellwood again underwent surgery, which was conducted by a different world-class specialist in the area of lower stomach injuries.

Normally, one operation does not beget another.

Normally -- if a sports hernia can be considered normal -- the success rate for the kind of surgery Wellwood underwent last season is very high.

Only he required surgery a second time. And no one can answer for certain as to why.

"He was in regular contact with our trainers, our doctors, our strength and conditioning coach throughout the summer," said Jeff Jackson, the Leafs' assistant general manager. "Everything seemed to be going fine. We had a protocol for him and he followed it."

The team says he followed it. Wellwood's father, in an interview with the National Post, said his son took it easy all summer and didn't really work out.

As usual, the truth may be somewhere in between.

In his four years as general manager of the Leafs, Ferguson has torn up his medical blueprint more than once. He has been impatient with his staff, changing team doctors, trainers, dentists, equipment men, hired a strength and conditioning coach, and altered the team's medical protocols.

And over those years he has had no shortage of medical difficulties with high-profile players.

Winger Owen Nolan ended up with a large medical settlement after leaving the Leafs. Winger Alexander Mogilny was paid while injured in the lockout year. Goalie Ed Belfour was signed to a contract before the Leafs discovered he required back surgery. Centre Eric Lindros lost most of his season with the Leafs on what he believes was an improper diagnosis of his injured wrist.

Now comes the Wellwood situation and you wonder, even in this case, if there is nothing to wonder about. You have to wonder because of the history, because of the problems, because of the medical uncertainties of the past.

On a Maple Leafs team with some youth but not a lot of youth with any kind of upside, Wellwood is different. He was to start the season as the No. 2 centre, partially because he deserves that and partially because there is no one else. The fact the Leafs are toying with Chad Kilger as his replacement at centre is indication enough of that.

Wellwood is one of those special kind of players who always has contributed offence. The question in the NHL always was about his skating and his strength.

Now, with his lower stomach muscles not holding up, it's not hard to wonder about his skating and his strength.

"If you look around the league, there's a lot of groin injuries, a lot of hip flexor injuries," Jackson said. "I don't know if it's the new skates guys are wearing, I don't know what's causing it. I just know it's happening a lot."

At least, the Leafs and Ferguson learned from the Lindros disaster.

They weren't about to wait around and hope for the best. They had their doctors consult with the leading surgeons on the matters and everyone agreed that doing revisional surgery was the only course of action.

The lineup Ferguson pencilled in before the season had Wellwood as his No. 2 centre and Mark Bell as the No. 3 centre. Now Bell is suspended for the first 15 games of the season and Wellwood is certain to miss the first month of the season.

And now they wait, however nervously, hoping the Wellwood they hoped for is the Wellwood they see next month.


Photos