After missing the end of his previous two regular seasons due to injuries to his left leg and right knee, Aaron Ekblad was able to finish this one out with the Florida Panthers.
But it did not come without some pain.
And, it looks like it is going to cost him the start of the next season with the Panthers.
Ekblad was a serious contender for the Norris Trophy which goes to the NHL’s top defenseman before he needed surgery to repair a fractured leg sustained in a game in Dallas in 2021.
In 2022 while playing in Anaheim, Ekblad sustained a right knee injury which did not need surgery but cost him the remainder of that regular season.
Ekblad had a laundry list of injuries this season, from the groin injury he suffered in Game 3 at Boston which cost him 11 games to injuring his foot and shoulder during the regular season.
By the time the Panthers’ playoff run had ended with a Game 5 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday night, coach Paul Maurice finally went on record with all the injuries his star defenseman had been playing through.
It is a long list, from a broken foot sustained in Game 2 against the Boston Bruins back on March 19 to a shoulder dislocation and a torn oblique.
When training camp opens in a few months, Ekblad does not expect to be on the ice.
“The (shoulder) has been a problem for a long time and we’re going to get it fixed,” Ekblad said on Thursday morning at the team’s cleanout day at FLA Live Arena. “I won’t be ready for September, but shortly after that. I’ll work through it this summer.”
This has been a trying season for Ekblad as he certainly played through pain to try and make a difference for his team.
“This was defiantly my toughest year, injury-wise as far as playing (through) it because I have had to deal with worse,’’ he said. “Nothing that was unmanageable. It wasn’t that bad. Stuff we all deal with.’’
While it was certainly a painful ordeal, to Ekblad, it was all worth it.
Just looking at him when the Panthers beat the Carolina Hurricanes to clinch the Eastern Conference title proved that.
But losing to the Golden Knights, knowing he and the Panthers were so close to the top of their game, is a pain in and of itself.
“It was not easy but it was worth it and it was fun,” he said. ”You adjust to the pain and it gets easier as it goes. The first few weeks with the foot was tough and it was more painful off the ice than on which was good. Your body just adjusts.”
Once he gets healed up and has surgery to fix that troublesome shoulder, Ekblad says he is ready to get after it and go for it again.
“The fact that we got there and competed and everything fell into place,’’ Ekblad said of the team’s attitude moving forward. “We bought into a system that we know can win. We didn’t get the job done but we know we can do it. That kind of belief is going to be very important for us moving forward.”
Of course, Ekblad was not the only member of the Panthers playing through the pain of various injuries.
Maurice broke down a number of injury concerns heading into the offseason — and there will likely be more — from Matthew Tkachuk’s fractured sternum to Sam Bennett’s groin and oblique to Brandon Montour’s injured labrum.
Ekblad probably will not be the only high-profile member of the Panthers to miss the start of training camp — with Maurice warning that some will not be back on the ice for some time.
“Everyone has injuries but I have never seen guys play with what they have, the sheer number of them,’’ Maurice said after Game 5.
“We’re going to have a hell of a time making the playoffs next year. That’s a fact. Because it’s hard. Good teams miss. And if you come in feeling good about yourself because you played two months longer, you’re in trouble.
“We’re going to have some players who are going to be on our roster but will not be in our opening night lineup. We’re probably talking 2-3 months; we have some guys who will take 4-6 months to heal. They are going to have surgery. We will look different at the start. Think of how Colorado started this year; we’re going to have some of that.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK