The first thing Edmonton Oilers fans should do: Step back from the ledge. Yeah, it stinks like a kettle of dead fish that Connor McDavid is injured. And as general manager Peter Chiarelli told a press conference: "We're talking months."
I'm here to tell you, Oilers fans, to buck up. Even if McDavid, who suffered a broken left clavicle Tuesday night against Philadelphia, is out for two months or more as Chiarelli suggested—and there’s reason to believe he could recover sooner—not all is lost for the franchise.
You wouldn’t know that by listening to Chiarelli, though, or by taking a look around the web. Immediate postmortems were given on the Oilers' season by some media people. Chiarelli's press conference on Wednesday had the feel of a funeral.
So let’s get started with the good news. From a physical standpoint, McDavid’s recovery should be routine, and it got off to a good start with a reportedly successful surgery.
"He'll be good in six to eight weeks," said Pat Karns, a former trainer with the Colorado Avalanche and 2002 U.S. Olympic team. "He should be skating again in two weeks, maybe three, post-surgery. And then it's just another couple weeks of getting his strength back and then another week of him doing game activity."
The collarbone, or its fancier name, clavicle, is the most commonly broken bone in the human body. And, as Karns told me, one of the easiest to repair and rehabilitate to full strength—and maybe even better.
"The surgical technique that they have today is very, very good," he said. "They'll put a plate in there and some screws, but there is zero chance of that being any more prone to injury than any other healthy bone in his body. In fact, the plate and screws are stronger than the original bone."
Much of McDavid's rehab, Karns said, will consist of doing proper range-of-motion exercises. Side lateral raises, forward raises, butterflies with weights to strengthen the pec muscles—those will all be part of McDavid's regimen.
"And part of the key is that he'll have to be in a shoulder pad to take the pressure off, to protect the soft tissue around the (clavicle)," he said. "There's a specific design to the shoulder pad, not unlike in football where it's called the cantilever, and it'll take the pressure off the collarbone and the shoulder itself."
Patrick Kane, Aaron Rodgers, Milan Hejduk, Tony Romo, Ryan Matthews, Zack Greinke...a lot of notable professional athletes have recovered just fine from broken collarbones. But McDavid's recovery will not be just physical. It will also be mental.
Learning how to effectively deal with the mental part of an injury is often a huge challenge for young players, former Avalanche great and Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg said.
"My first two years, I only missed one game. I thought I couldn't get hurt," said Forsberg, in a talk I had with him last year in his native Sweden. "Then, the third year I missed a bunch of games after I got kneed in the leg by Todd Simpson (in Calgary) and then in the playoffs I re-injured it. It was the first time in my life, really, that I couldn't do what I wanted to do physically. That was hard to deal with."
Forsberg suffered several other serious injuries in his career, and even had to have his spleen removed during the 2001 playoffs. Every time he was forced to the injured list, he said, was like a small death. He also missed serious time from ankle, foot, shoulder and groin injuries, among others.
"It was always depressing to me. You sit around and feel like you're not part of the team anymore," he said. "You feel like you might never get back from what you had. It's a little scary."
Another player I covered for a long time, Joe Sakic, had a couple of scary moments with his health. In 1997, a skate blade from Philadelphia's Dale Hawerchuk sliced his Achilles tendon to the bone. At the Olympics in 1998, playing for Canada, he suffered a partial tear to knee ligaments. The last season of his career, 2008-09, he was limited to just 15 games because of back and finger injuries.
"There's almost nothing worse than being injured and you know it's going to be a while," Sakic said. "You're not sure how you're going to come out of it. But you have to trust the medical staff and what they tell you. Once you accept that, it makes it easier."
Karns stressed that reassuring a player that he'll be OK—if that is the true prognosis—is half the battle in rehab situations.
"You have to be part psychologist at times," Karns said. "They're scared or unsure what might happen to their careers after a serious injury. You have to lay out the facts before them and give them a clear road map as to 'This is how it will be if you just follow the program.'"
This isn't McDavid's first career injury, either. Last year, in fact, he missed several weeks after breaking his right hand in a fight while playing for the Erie Otters. He acknowledged, about a month after the hand injury, that sitting out was hard on him.
“About as crappy as you can imagine," McDavid told reporters (via The Hockey Writers) when asked what life was like on the injured list. "It’s a broken hand, not a whole lot you can do.”
McDavid went right back to being sensational after that injury, and he should again after this one too, provided he follows the program.
By early January, if things go as Karns predicted, McDavid will be back in the lineup and all will be well again. Until the next injury.
"It's hockey. Injuries are going to happen to everyone," Karns said.