Corey Tropp is a long way away from playing in a game, but the Buffalo Sabres’ forward moved a step closer toward returning to the lineup Monday when he practiced with the team for the first time since suffering a broken jaw last month.
Tropp wore a non-contact red jersey during the hour-long workout at First Niagara Center and spoke to reporters afterward for the first time since getting injured during a fight with Toronto’s Jamie Devane during a Sept. 22 preseason contest at Air Canada Centre.
The fight ignited a line brawl. The Sabres felt Devane didn’t need to throw that one final punch as he and Tropp fell to the ice with the latter on the bottom. The brawl started when tough guy John Scott went after Leafs star Phil Kessel. That led to Kessel’s teammate, Dave Clarkson, leaving the bench to come to his aid and receiving a 10-game suspension. Kessel received a three-game preseason ban for swinging his stick at Scott, and the incident culminated with a goalie fight between Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier.
Tropp, who had his jaw wired shut for 10 days, said he holds no ill will toward Devane, who at 6-foot-5 is five inches taller than he is.
“It was a mutual decision,” Tropp said. “That’s part of the game. It happens. Obviously he got the better half of me on that one but it is what it is. He’s a good player and that’s all it is.”
Tropp hasn’t been cleared for contact and said he still holds his jaw closed with rubber bands when he’s not skating, working out or eating.
Tropp, who likely would have been on the Sabres’ opening night roster after missing most of last season with a serious knee injury, said it’s between him and the team’s medical personnel as to when he might play.
Coach Ron Rolston said after practice that Tropp is probably a couple of weeks from playing even though he had been skating with the Sabres’ other injured players the past few weeks.
Tropp showed he’s a hard-working, gritty player in 34 games with the Sabres in 2011-12, when he had three goals, eight points and 20 minutes in penalties.
It’s those characteristics, he believes, that could help a 1-8-1 team find its way in games.
“One of the assets I think I can help bring to the table when I’m ready to go is hard work and being able to contribute in all areas of the ice,” he said. “Just playing that hard, never give-up game. At the end of the day when things aren’t going right, it gets back to the basics. You’ve got to work hard.”
Patrick Kaleta was in New York City on Monday and had his appeal meeting with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Kaleta is trying to have his 10-game suspension for hitting Columbus’ Jack Johnson reduced but has already served half of that sentence. The outcome of the meeting has yet to be announced.
Should Bettman uphold the suspension, who has been suspended/fined five times by the league for crossing the physical line, Kaleta has the option of appealing to a neutral arbitrator.
Kaleta, who isn’t allowed to play while appealing the ban, stands to lose $152,439 in salary during the suspension.
Tropp wasn’t the only injured Sabre to skate with the team Monday. Forward Ville Leino skated and participated fully in practice, working on a line with Kevin Porter. Cody McCormick and Mikhail Grigorenko took turns on the unit.
Leino, out with a cracked rib suffered in the season opener Oct. 2, said he hopes to be available by the end of the week. Rolston said it’s about giving him some bumps in practice and making sure he’s in game shape before letting him return.
“We’ll decide on when he’s ready,” Rolston said. “Obviously he’s a veteran who can come back and help us for sure but we’ll make sure he’s healthy and ready to go.”
Leino is on injured reserve.
McCormick practiced for the first time since taking a shot off his knee during Thursday’s loss to Vancouver. While McCormick said he felt pretty good and was able to do everything, the Sabres placed him on injured reserve and recalled rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen from Rochester.
Ristolainen, sent to the Amerks on Saturday to make room for fellow rookie Nikita Zadorov, participated in practice and skated with Scott, who worked with the defense while Christian Ehrhoff was given a day off.