Kyle Wellwood’s plans of going through his first injury-free offseason in recent memory hit a bump two weeks ago during an indoor soccer game. According to a report published in the Windsor Star, Wellwood injured his foot while playing indoor soccer as part of an offseason training session.
"I was playing indoor soccer and it (my foot) sort of cracked," Wellwood commented in an interview with the Windsor Star.
Though he is expected to recover well in advance of training camp, which opens in mid-September, the injury does inevitably set back Wellwood’s offseason training regiment, where he had hoped to drastically improve his fitness level in advance of next season.
After an impressive rookie campaign in 2005-06 where Wellwood registered 45 points while competing in 81 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, his sophomore season was cut short. He managed appearances in only 48 games after suffering an abdominal injury that required surgery.
Wellwood spent the better part of last summer recovering from that surgery to a point where both he and the Maple Leafs felt he would be able to regain the form he showed during the first season-and-a-half of his NHL career.
That was not quite how things worked out though. Early in training camp before the 2007-08 season, Wellwood required another minor surgery, forcing him to miss the first month of the season. Throughout a lackluster and disappointing season, Wellwood’s conditioning was called into question as he struggled mightily during his third NHL campaign.
A restricted free agent as of July 1, 2008, there are no guarantees that he will be back with the Maple Leafs for a fourth season. Wellwood will need to be extended a qualifying offer in order for the Maple Leafs to retain his rights.
General Manager Cliff Fletcher will have to decide if he feels Wellwood is still an integral component to the Maple Leafs core group of young players that includes Matt Stajan, also a restricted free agent this off season, Alex Steen, Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman, Ian White, and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Jeremy Williams (a young player with scoring prowess who has been knocking on the big league door for the past few seasons) and the highly touted Russian winger Nikolai Kulemin, are both expected to get serious looks from the big club next season. Even if Wellwood is back, a demotion to the Toronto Marlies may be in order.
The Maple Leafs are clearly not in a position to challenge for a Stanley Cup next season and as a result, they will likely rely more heavily on their contingent of youth next season in hopes of expediting their development at the NHL level. Wellwood will not just be allowed to coast through another season with a lot of young players eager for a shot with the big club.
If anything is for sure with Kyle Wellwood, an offseason with much uncertainty just got a little bit cloudier.