Offseason recovery the ultimate goal for Coyotes’ Stone
When Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone went into the corner with the Philadelphia Flyers’ Michael Raffl on March 26 at Gila River Arena, there was an unnerving result.
Pursuing a loose puck, Stone and Raffl became entangled and collided. When Stone went down, he heard, in his words, “something pop,” and knew it was severe. Helped off the ice by teammates and the medical staff, Stone immediately left for the locker room.
“There was no real pain, but I knew something was wrong,” he said. “It is disappointing, but it happened late in the season and not at the start.”
The next time he emerged from behind closed doors, he sported a brace on his right knee and was rushed to the hospital. The result was a torn ACL and damage to his MCL. The recovery time is six months and beyond and at this point, Stone has no timetable.
“If anything like this had to happen, this was probably a good a time as any,” he said. “You have to accept what happened. There is no other option.”
Here, he referenced the season-ending torn ACL injury sustained by the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber at Chase Field on April 7. A huge baseball fan, Stone recognized that Schwarber’s injury came during the Cubs’ fourth game of the season, and the Chicago outfielder was lost for the entire season. Stone’s injury occurred in the fading games of the schedule, and he recognized the timing.
Stone, who is a restricted free agent starting July 1, just concluded his most productive NHL campaign. For the 2015-16 season, the native of Winnipeg scored six goals, a career-high 30 assists and career-best 36 points. Just before the collision with Raffl, Stone’s blast from the right point with one second remaining in the second period gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead at that point. Arizona ended up winning 2-1, and Stone’s goal was his only game winner of the season.
Now, the protracted and excruciating recovery period. With a minimum of six months, it’s unlikely Stone will be ready for the start of training camp in mid-September. While some teams, like the Arizona Diamondbacks, are conservative with their recovery period for pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery, the Coyotes medical staff will take similar precautions.
Emerging as a reliable and dependable member of the Coyotes’ blue line corps, Stone’s value steadily rose. Paired at first with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and later with Kevin Connauton, Stone’s ability to control the puck from the right point and quickly clear the disc to center from inside his own blue line made him especially valuable.
A third-round pick (69th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Stone came to the Coyotes as one of the top-scoring defensemen in junior hockey. The season just before he was drafted, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder placed fourth among Western Hockey League defenseman and finished with 21 goals and 44 assists for 65 points in 69 games with the Calgary Hitmen. Though he scored six times this past season with the Coyotes, Stone’s best NHL goal-scoring season was during the 2013-14 year where he tallied eight goals among 21 points.
“I would say Stone is in the middle of being a superstar and a solid, NHL defenseman,” said Arizona coach Dave Tippett. “He is a very sturdy, reliable defenseman, and you definitely need a few of these guys if you are to be successful.”
After missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year, Tippett said a priority is to establish a stronger defense. His main approach is to cut down on goals allowed, and Stone figures heavily in these plans. Yet, his injury may compromise Tippett’s ultimate direction.
For now, Stone progresses through his rehab program and hopes to rejoin his teammates as soon as possible. While he will miss important offseason conditioning, Stone remains optimistic he can skate with his teammates on opening night in early October.
— Mark Brown