Something told Seth Jones the pain he felt during the second intermission Oct. 29 against the Sabres indicated a significant injury, not just another bruise.
But with the Blackhawks locked in a close game, he decided to play through it and deal with the consequences later.
“You just kind of know sometimes,” Jones said Tuesday. “It didn’t feel good. But it’s one of those things where you have adrenaline going a little bit and it’s just one period [to get through].”
The diagnosis after the game confirmed Jones’ suspicion. He’d broken his right thumb and would miss an estimated three-to-four weeks. And as recently as last week, it seemed like he’d miss even longer than that. Hawks coach Luke Richardson estimated last Wednesday that Jones was at least 10-14 days away.
Hawks doctors suddenly liked what they saw on Jones’ X-ray this week, though, and cleared the 28-year-old defenseman to return. He went from skating only on his own to participating fully in team practice Tuesday — on the first pairing with Jack Johnson — before the Hawks’ flight to Dallas, his hometown.
He plans to be in the lineup Wednesday against the Stars, and although that isn’t cemented yet, it’s wise not to bet against Jones when he sets his mind on something.
“Watching on TV is pretty boring,” he said. “It should be fun. [I have] a lot of family there. I’ll have dinner tonight with some of the family, and obviously they’ll all be at the game tomorrow.”
Richardson said he likes to give the “worst-case scenario and work backwards” in his injury updates and didn’t seem too surprised by Jones’ sudden return.
“It just depends on quick you heal,” Richardson said. “In Ottawa, when I was there, Daniel Alfredsson was like a miracle. He always seemed to be healed faster than everybody else.
“As long as the X-rays show the break is clouded over, then it’s going to be solid enough to play. Otherwise, if it was displaced, you can’t really take that chance. With a guy like that, you want to make sure you do the right thing. As long as the doctors clear him, it’s fine.”
Because the injury didn’t affect his lower body, Jones continued skating — and skating hard — throughout his absence to keep his conditioning up.
That should aid him Wednesday, even though Richardson said he hopes he’ll be able to ease him back in with a smaller-than-usual workload. He’d averaged 25:12 of ice time through the Hawks’ first eight games, tallying four assists, after averaging 26:13 in 78 games last season.
Of slightly more concern is a splint Jones will need to wear around his thumb for the next few weeks. The splint provides protection against re-fracturing the bone but prevents him from bending the thumb.
“That’s challenging,” Jones said. “I can’t move it or do much with it, but it is what it is. I’ve had it on for about two weeks now…so [I’m] pretty used to it.”
Thumb flexibility or not, Jones’ return should make a huge difference for the Hawks. They went 2-6-2 during the 10 games he missed while allowing 35.1 shots on goal, 33.1 scoring chances and 3.06 expected goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five, ranking bottom-five in the league in every category.
Almost all of their defensemen have been over-slotted in the depth chart, thrust into roles larger and more difficult than they could handle. With Jones devouring minutes and taking on top matchups again, that problem should somewhat resolve itself.
Note: The latest injury update was worse for forward Tyler Johnson. He didn’t practice Tuesday after experiencing increased ankle soreness the past two days. At one point, he expected to return last week; now, even next week seems optimistic.