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Halpern will return to Lightning later, not sooner

When Jeff Halpern had major surgery on his right knee in June, the window for his recovery was from the end of October to the end of December.

It is looking more and more as if the center won't be ready until the end of that estimate.

"It's a big injury," vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said. "There was a lot of atrophy."

Halpern, hurt playing for the United States at the World Championships, sustained a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, a partial rupture of the medial collateral ligament and a small tear to the lateral meniscus.

Halpern's agent, Mike Liut, said it makes sense that the Lightning is taking a long view.

"It's managing the expectations, which is the right way to be handling it," Liut said. "Why place expectations? If you miss them, then everybody is disappointed. If you say December and by the end of October he's back, everybody is happy."

Halpern, 32, had 10 goals and 18 points in 19 games after being acquired from the Stars in the Brad Richards deal. His absence makes the return of Ryan Craig from back and knee injuries and the re-signing of Chris Gratton that much more important.

Even free-agent signees Wyatt Smith and Adam Hall can fill in in a pinch.

"It's going to be a policy going forward that we're not going to rush people back," Lawton said. "The athletes come first. We've put some depth into the organization. We're just going to have to be able to fill in with a plan."

PRESEASON SCHEDULE: The first game is four days after the Sept. 16 start of training camp at Brandon's Ice Sports Forum. Sept. 20 — at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 — Penguins at St. Pete Times Forum, 7:30. Sept. 23 — Rangers at St. Pete Times Forum, 7:30. Sept. 25 — at Rangers, 7. Sept. 28 — at Eisbaren Berlin, Germany, 10 a.m. EDT.

REGULAR SEASON: The home opener is Oct. 11 against Carolina. Tampa Bay's home-and-homes with the West are against the Avalanche, Wild and Sharks. The full schedule is out today.

IT'S THEIR TEAM: As veterans with more than 900 goals between them, Mark Recchi, 40, and Gary Roberts, 42, will command respect in the locker room. But Roberts said they will be careful not to step on toes.

"This is Vinny's team and Marty's team," he said of Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. "We're just here to complement those guys. I'm just excited to be part of it. As an older guy, you come in and you do your job the way you've done it for 20 years. That's not going to change.

"At some point will I offer some advice, or Mark? Probably. But we're not going to walk in here and try to make changes. Whether you play 20 years or one year, you have to gain the respect of your teammates."

NOSE JOB: Wing Ryan Malone, acquired as a free agent from the Penguins, built a small legend last season by missing only a few minutes of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final after a shot broke his nose.

"I thought my face was dented in," Malone said. "Once I got into the locker room, I was asking the trainers how bad it was. … They said it wasn't too bad, and I could breathe, so I was like, 'Get me ready and I'll go back out there.' "

Malone said he did not consider sitting out despite difficulty breathing.

"You never know when you're going to get there," he said of the Cup final. "You want to make sure you leave it all out there. You don't want to leave anything in the tank, that's for sure."

ODDS AND ENDS: Lawton said assistant coaches Mike Sullivan and Jeff Reese are talking to other teams. … The medical and training staffs have been retained, as has video coach Nigel Kirwan.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Halpern will return to Lightning later, not sooner 07/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 10:18pm]
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