Lightning center Jeff Halpern knows what a torn anterior cruciate ligament feels like. He suffered a complete tear of his left ACL in 2002, requiring surgery that cost him half a season. That's why the 32-year-old was apparently so concerned when he was helped off the ice with an injured right knee in Team USA's 5-4 loss to Canada on Tuesday in the IIHF World Championships at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He was more right than he knew, and it could cost him at least the first month of the 2008-09 NHL season. Halpern was diagnosed by Capitals team physician Benjamin Shaffer on Wednesday with a complete rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament, and at least partially torn medial collateral ligament and a small tear to the lateral meniscus. According to a team release, Shaffer and the Lightning medical staff have recommended that Halpern wait 4-6 weeks for trauma from the MCL injury to settle before surgically reconstructing the ACL. Rehabilitation is expected to take 5-6 months, which would eliminate his preseason and the first month of the regular season.
Agent Mike Liut said Halpern was "pretty low, but he's been down this road before. He knows what he has to do." That includes, he said, hopefully accelerating the timetable for surgery if the knee cooperates. Liut considers Shaffer's timetable "outer markers" for recovery.
Shaffer performed the surgery on Halpern's left knee when he was member of that team. Halpern played 48 games in 2001-02, the season in which he was injured, but returned for a full season the next year.
"It's a tough one, but Jeff will work hard and rehab this," Liut said. "The unfortunate thing is he played so well for Tampa. You try to play these international competitions, and they're a lot of fun, and the U.S. had a great team, but something like this can happen."
Halpern came to the Lightning as an extra piece in the trade deadline deal that sent Brad Richards to the Stars, but he soon became a most valuable addition. He helped rejuvenate the second line, scoring 10 goals (18 points) in 19 games, and linemate Michel Ouellet had nine in the same span.
Coach John Tortorella, who is also guiding Team USA, had extolled Halpern's attributes before he arrived in Tampa, saying he was the team's best offensive and defensive center much of the time. The coach saw an expanded role for Halpern in 2008-09, saying he "couldn't be more excited about the prospect of where's he going to fit in our lineup next year."