With Mike Smith improving, GM Lawton says he won't look for net help in free agency
We'll have more on this in Saturday's paper, but it appears the Lightning is satisfied enough with the progress goaltender Mike Smith is making while recovering from post-concussion syndrome that GM Brian Lawton will not look for a goalie in free agency. Lawton last month floated the idea he might have to do that if Smith's recovery stalled, but this week said, "We feel 100 percent comfortable with him. He's going to be ready. He's on track."
Asked if he will be ready for training camp," Smith said, "Absolutely."
Smith said he is working out hard, both on the stationary bike and with weights and has raised his heart rate to 175, which Lightning trainer Tommy Mulligan said is "close to the max of his training capacity." Smith, whose last game was Jan. 30, has not skated (though he joked he could if his skates were sharpened), and he admitted he still has occasional "dizziness" and "fogginess" and sometimes after workouts "little black dots get in my vision." But he also said, "We have to remember that I haven't worked out and I haven't been on the ice for five months now. If you, or anyone else, haven't worked out for four or five months and got back in the gym and got their heart rate back up to 175, 180, they probably would feel the same way I am right now, even without a concussion.
"I'm pushing it pretty good right now. ... I've felt better and progressed every day I've been in the gym, so it's definitely exciting."
Noted concussion expert Robert C. Cantu of Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., acknowledged, while speaking generally, black dots are symptomatic of head trauma and in and of themselves are not more of a red flag than anything else. And Smith said all those conditions are much improved, especially when you consider that soon after he was hurt, he could not even watch a game from the pressbox because the noise and lights were so irritating.
"There's still room for improvement and still a ways to go, but there's still a lot of time left," Smith said. "If a month from now, I feel as good as I do now, with improvement down the road, I'll be back to the Smitty we all know."
That would be good news for Tampa Bay, which would have been in even sorrier shape last season if not for Smith's superb play.
Concussions are tricky, though, and until we hear that Smith is completely symptom free, it is something of which to keep track, and Smith said he soon will be in Tampa to meet with the Lightning's medical staff for an evaluation. Safe to say that will happen before free agency gets going on July 1. Still, Smith, 27, sounded great, very strong, and said in the past three weeks, following a workout plan developed by Ottawa trainer Lorne Goldberg, who was recommended by former teammate Gary Roberts, he has been able to raise his heart rate about 50 beats per minute.
"He's definitely progressing," Mulligan said. "I don't think anybody, including himself, has any concerns going forward as far as training camp. Is he 100 percent right now? I'd say no, but he's pretty darn close."
Smith said he usually goes on the ice in mid to late July, though he probably will go on a little earlier this year. Asked if he could skate now if he wanted, Smith said yes, but wants to get on skates in a position of strength.
"I definitely could go for a wheel, but it's not the most important thing right now," he said. "The most important thing is I get in the gym and I'm doing stuff like getting my heart rate up and doing stuff that's going to help me when I get on the ice and not take a step back."
Another help: for the first time, next season, he said he will wear a mouth guard while playing.