You know Steve Yzerman's comeback from knee surgery was improbable. But do you know really just how improbable?
Let's put it this way: The doctor who perfomed the osteotomy on Yzerman's 37-year-old right knee in August said it was the first time he had ever heard of a pro athlete having the procedure done. Much less an active pro athlete.
The operation was to realign the bones in the knee. The six-month recovery usually implies getting people up and walking normally again. Not playing in professional hockey games.
"I had never heard of one before last June," Yzerman said. "It's pretty common, although they had never done it on a competitive athlete. What they did was, in my tibia right below right knee, they sawed 9/10ths of the way through and bent it a little and put a wedge in it. It made me a little more bowlegged. When you're knockkneed, I guess, you bear more weight on the outside of your knee. And when you're bowlegged, you bear the weight more on the inside. Since I have a healthier surface on the inside of my knee, they made me more bowlegged."
So there was Yzerman, just more than six months later -- the minimum -- back on the ice for the Red Wings. At first he talked about sitting out the year and coming back strong in the fall. Then he started thinking about the playoffs. Then he was just, well, back.
For a player who bristled at the notion of retirement, you had to wonder if Yzerman wasn't motivated to not miss a whole season. Would that have somehow pushed him closer to being retired than being active?
"No, not really," he said. "It just kind of went along and I progressed relatively well. It just worked out that I was ready to play a game. If I wasn't ready to play, I wouldn't have played, There wasn't any set time. It just happened that things progressed that way."
Yzerman says retirement is still a year away.
"I haven't thought seriously about it," he said. "I don't know if I'll ever set a date. I'm going year-to-year now. I'm planning on playing next season, and beyond that I'm not really sure. In order just to play next season, I have to get through this one healthy."
His effect on the Wings was obvious. In four games, Yzerman has two assists in about 13 minutes per game. And the Wings are 4-0.
"There's no words to explain [Yzerman's return]," Red Wings goalie Manny Legace said. "It just feels so good to just have him sitting here in the dressing room with his uniform on. To have him sitting on the bench ... he's the greatest leader I've ever seen."