BRANDON — Tim Taylor has a decision to make, one he knows could be emotional.
The Lightning captain, sidelined because of preseason hip surgery, could finish his 13-year NHL career on the ice during Tampa Bay's final game, April 5 at Atlanta.
Coach John Tortorella gave him the option.
"That would be nice," Taylor said Monday at the Ice Sports Forum. "To sit on the bench at the end of the game and to know, 'Okay, it's over now,' would be really nice."
"He deserves that type of respect," Tortorella said. "He's been a loyal guy to the organization and has done a lot of things on and off the ice that people don't even know about, so he deserves that right."
Taylor said he hasn't made a decision, that it has nothing to do with his health and everything to do with timing.
Taylor, 39, said he doesn't want to intrude on player evaluations the team is making for the future. And while he has skated since late January, Taylor has practiced fewer than 10 times.
"It's tough for anyone, especially someone my age, to come back after not playing at all," he said.
Perhaps, but it's not as if he would take a regular shift. And it's not as if the Lightning or Thrashers are fighting for the playoffs.
And as for any player's chance to finish his career on his own terms, teammate Marty St. Louis said, "It would be like the cherry on the cake."
Taylor's Sept. 6 surgery, called hip resurfacing, corrected his painful right-hip dysplasia by shaving and smoothing the head of the femur, topping it with a chrome alloy cap and fitting it into the hip socket that was coated.
Taylor is "ecstatic" at the results. He said he is golfing, playing racquetball and running 7 miles "at ease and without any pain.
"And I can play hockey at any level," the center said. "I'm totally convinced if I was 25, 26 years old, 30 years old, I could come back and play for sure."
If Taylor does not play against the Thrashers, the Stratford, Ontario, native will finish with 746 games, 73 goals, 167 points and Stanley Cups in 2004 with the Lightning and 1997 with the Red Wings.
Although overshadowed by Dave Andreychuk's huge persona, Taylor was an integral part of Tampa Bay's core leadership.
"He was never talked about," Tortorella said. "Andy was always the main focus. But Tales did a lot of good things in the same vein as far as getting the locker room straightened out."
"He left his mark," St. Louis said, "as one of the first true leaders who helped turn this franchise around."
He has left another with a popular call-in radio gig after home games. He said he would like to be a scout, and the Lightning has said it wants to keep him in the organization.
But does he want to play?
"I don't want to say yes. I don't want to say no," Taylor said. "Now I'm practicing every day. Maybe the last day of the season, maybe I get that itch."
NOTES: Center Jeff Halpern (abdominal strain) said he will decide today if he can play. & Defenseman Paul Ranger (left shoulder) is scheduled for an MRI exam. & Injured center Chris Gratton will join Sun Sports' Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor during the second period of tonight's game with the Panthers. & Tampa Bay's final four home games, starting tonight, are Fan Appreciation Nights and feature players walking a red carpet to the stadium, starting about 4:30 p.m. Taylor and Andreychuk will be on the plaza stage from 6:45 to 7:15 for question and answers. Tonight's first 5,000 fans get Lightning car flags.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]