Add Andy Sutton's name to the list of veteran NHLers we might not see on the other side of this lockout, especially if this season is canceled.
The 37-year-old rugged defenseman is facing the 12th surgery of his career in a few weeks, and the rehab that’s attached to it has certainly given him pause for thought on his NHL future.
"Especially having to go through this long, tough rehab again, I don’t know how I’m going to come out of it on the other side," Sutton told ESPN.com this week from his home in Newport Beach, Calif.
He suffered a knee injury in the summer and had surgery in early October, but that was only the beginning.
"I basically broke a chunk off my femur, the piece I broke off was giving me a lot of discomfort, so they went in and sort of cleaned up my knee and took out the chunk," Sutton explained. "Now, I have to repair the defect that’s there. Otherwise, it’ll just keep getting bigger. It’s bone on bone in two spots in my knee. I have another surgery scheduled in the next few weeks in Santa Monica to fix that defect. And I guess the road to recovery from that is quite long and arduous. So I don’t know, this is going to be my 12th surgery, I’m pretty tired of what I’ve done to my body."
There was a slight pause on the phone line before he added: "I have a 14-month-old, I just want to be able to chase her around and enjoy my life. Because there is more to life than hockey, that’s for sure."
If this is indeed it for Sutton, the toughest part will have been not knowing that when he stepped onto the ice last April 7 in Edmonton’s season finale, he was playing his last game.
"I didn’t know that the last game of the season we played in Vancouver may have inevitably been my last," he said. "It’s definitely not the way I thought I’d go out after a good, long career. But at the same time, this has allowed me to be here around my family now. I think having a child has changed my perspective about everything and certainly my priorities."
He thinks of the big picture, too, for the game he loves. Especially living in a non-traditional hockey market in Southern California, Sutton just shakes his head at the damage the second NHL lockout of his career is causing.
"I think it’s sad more than anything," Sutton said. "We gained so much momentum -- it felt like -- after the last lockout and the league really seemed to be prospering and the fans were getting more passionate about the game. I think we’ve lost that momentum that we managed to build up. That’s sad for me."
He points to hockey-crazy Edmonton, where he would be playing this season.
"Being an Oiler is an exciting time," Sutton said. "We’ve got these great, young players. That’s all on hold right now. It’s disappointing for the fans more than anything."
He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season, but it’s that rising squad in Edmonton that has him not totally closing the door on playing again if he’s able to get through his rehab without regressing.
"I really did enjoy my time there last year," Sutton said. "It’s a fun place to play. The fans are amazing. It’s such a hockey city and even more so now with all the talent growing there in front of everyone’s eyes."
Being one of the few veterans on a young and exciting team has its alluring aspects.
"The last couple of years my role has diminished significantly, but it’s been a lot of fun in Anaheim two years ago spending time with young guys like Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa, and last year in Edmonton with all the young guys there," Sutton said. "They give you so much energy, they really reinvigorated my desire to come to the rink every day.
"So I don’t know, it’s tempting. But at the same time my wife and I are going to try to have another child in the next little while. I think we’ll just leave it open and see how the rehab goes and see how the season shakes out with these labor negotiations."
In the meantime, he’s trying to keep his spirits up.
"I was pretty down when I found out the severity of the injury, it kind of slapped me in the face," Sutton said. "But there’s more to life than hockey and, when I wake up in the morning and hear my daughter cry out my name and see her standing at the end of her crib, it puts things in perspective."