ST. LOUIS - OK, what now?
That's the looming question of the day for the Blues, who announced that forward Robby Fabbri re-injured his surgically-repaired left knee during training camp and will now miss the 2017-18 season with that torn ACL.
Fabbri, 21, who has 29 goals and 37 assists in less than two NHL seasons, was injured on Feb. 4 last season, had surgery in Chicago performed by Dr. Richard Bach on Feb. 28, was cleared by Dr. Bach for hockey-related activities on July 31 and resumed skating, to which he participated in informal skates before being declared ready for training camp.
But in a matter of one week, Fabbri's return to the lineup included one preseason game against Washington on Friday and that's it.
The Blues initially shut Fabbri down the remainder of the preseason last Sunday and said he'd be re-evaluated in 10 days. But after an MRI, it was confirmed by Blues doctors that a tear had reoccurred and confirmed by Dr. Bach.
"These last couple days have been very difficult and pretty emotional for me and my family after finding out my season was over," Fabbri said in a prepared statement which he read at a press conference on Thursday. "I worked really hard with the training staff since the surgery to rehab my knee and be ready for camp. I really felt good and was excited to get out there on the ice with the guys again and feel part of the team. I knew my injury that there was a three percent chance of it happening again and unfortunately, I fell in that three percent. My teammates and coaches and management have been supportive during this tough time and I thank them for that. There's nothing I can do now but try and stay positive, be supportive for the guys for this season and get ready for next season. I won't be answering any questions until after surgery."
What the Blues, who open the season Oct. 4 in Pittsburgh, have to figure out is who replaces Fabbri and how they go about doing that?
Will it come from within? Will it come from outside the organization via trade or free agency signing?
The Blues will entertain all options, according to general manager Doug Armstrong. It's a decision that the team will have to make rather soon.
"We're exploring all options right now," Armstrong said before the Blues departed for Kansas City for a "home" preseason game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. "Really excited about our younger players and what they've accomplished now. But going over the players that we have here on our roster here today, we have [Samuel] Blais and Tage [Thompson] and [Klim] Kostin that have played zero NHL games and we have [Ivan] Barbashev and [Oskar] Sundqvist that have played limited NHL games up front and we have [Jake] Walman and [Vince] Dunn on the backend that have played zero NHL games.
"We're five players out. Four experienced, one not as experienced in [Zach] Sanford. When I put my vision on July 1st, we've lost a third of our top nine and also a third of our top 12 with Sanford's injury. We've sustained some injuries, but we have to find a way to overcome it. That's sports and we have to find a way to overcome it. We're going to count on these young players. I don't want to say it's a concern, but it's the next injury that ... when they start to multiply, it's, 'Where is our next depth after that?' We're not going to make a bad trade, we're not going to overpay to do something, but we do have to explore different avenues."
Free agent right wing Jaromir Jagr has become an option for the Blues, who along with Fabbri are currently without injured forwards Alexander Steen (hand), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Sanford (shoulder). Berglund isn't expected back until December and Sanford, who had surgery on Tuesday on a dislocated left shoulder, is out 5-6 months. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (ankle) and Steen are expected to be out through the first week of the regular season.
Fabbri, who the Blues were hoping to get 4-5 preseason games out of, was initially supposed to play in the exhibition opener at Dallas on Sept. 19. But after taking part in the morning practice that day, Fabbri was held out of the game as a precaution.
Coach Mike Yeo spoke the day after the Dallas game of some natural swelling and perhaps scar tissue discomfort. But Armstrong laid out the details of how things got to where they shut Fabbri down for the season.
"During practice on Monday (Sept. 18), they were doing a 2-on-2 drill, Robby felt a little discomfort," Armstrong said. "He reported that to the trainers, then we had a break in that session. Robby felt good, talked to the trainers, said he wanted to go back out. He went back out and finished that practice. There was a little bit of swelling that evening, so we took Robby out of that game, wanted to take a look and see what was going on there. The swelling decreased the next day, the range of motion came back to where it was at prior to that. So we progressed by allowing Robby to practice and play in that Washington game. After the Washington game, Robby felt fine again. You can't replicate a game situation in practice. Robby played 19 minutes and change that night and he felt good, had a little bit of swelling in the knee. As that night progressed, the swelling increased, which got our medical staff's attention. That gets us to Sunday morning. We did an MRI Sunday morning, I got the information about 11:30 a.m. that our doctors felt they saw the tear in the ACL. We then sent that MRI to Dr. Bach, put Robby on a plane on Monday, he went to see Dr. Bach in Chicago. Dr. Bach confirmed to our medical staff what our medical staff saw. That was Monday. Then we took Tuesday to get our arms around everything and Wednesday and we're here today."
"We skated together in the summer in Toronto," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "He trained with me. I'm not a doctor, so I'm not going to say what happened, but he just put in a lot of effort this summer; I saw it firsthand. It's tough to have that happen if you put in that much work.
"It's the next man up, but we lost a lot more guys than we were expecting at this time of the year. These young kids have impressed, up front and on the backend. This is the reason you have depth, this is the reason you draft well. We're going to expect a lot from these young guys, but even more from us veteran guys who are going to have to eat up a lot of more of those minutes."
"You never want to hear that news for anyone," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "People expected big things from him this year and obviously a top pick for the Blues. Obviously tough for the team losing a guy like that, but at the end of the day, it's an opportunity for other guys to step up and fill a big hole that he would have contributed (to)."
Now Yeo has to find, unless given other tools, someone within the team to hopefully fill the void.
"I had very high expectations for Robby coming into the season," Yeo said. "... Obviously his speed and his skill is obviously going to be missed but now we have to ... I kidded around with him, I guess he just doesn't want to play with me. He played one game last year and he doesn't want to play in any this year. We're going to have to find a way to get around this.
"As a coach, you obviously turn towards your team and you think about that and what that means for our group, but for me right now, obviously I feel terrible for Robby. He's a great player and a he's a kid that brings a lot of life and energy to the rink every day and loves to play the game. To have that taken from him this year after going through what he did, that is disappointing. We'll do everything that we can from our staff's standpoint. As coaches, we'll try to keep him engaged and try to keep him involved. It won't necessarily an every day thing, but we'll try to keep his head in the game here.
"There's times where you feel a little something and then you get ressured that it's just scar tissue or it's just part of the process. It's disappointing to him and it's certainly shocking, but I feel very confident that everybody took the right steps here. Just a real unfortunate thing that happened."
Armstrong said the expectation is for Fabbri to have the surgery within the first two weeks of October and it will be performed by Dr. Bach again.
"Dr. Bach, who performed the original surgery, has seen Robby. He saw him last Monday. Robby's comfortable that Dr. Bach will perform the second surgery," Armstrong said. "The timeline for this now is to hopefully have it done within the first couple weeks of October. That's just preparing the knee for surgery. That's not a definite date, but we think we should have it done within the first two weeks of October. The timeline for recovery is ... we're hoping and believing he'll be ready for next training camp. We're not expecting him at all this year, regardless of how deep we go ... make the playoffs, first of all, you've got to do that, and regardless of how deep we go, Robby's season is complete.
"I think in a situation like this, everyone is looking for a villain. Everyone is looking for why it happened. Unfortunately, this is an ice hockey injury. Robby is in that uncomfortable three percent of players that have had a recurrence of this injury.
"I think as he was skating in competition, there was more wear and tear from the leisure skate by yourself to getting into summer hockey with the players to get into practice to get into games. There's obviously progression on that. ... I think there was no nerve endings basically on that area because it was obviously a harvested portion for his ACL. There would be no nerve endings where you could like feel anything like you could originally. I think there was one instant, I don't remember when it was, I'm thinking it might have been that Monday practice, but when the swelling went down, the range of motion came back and there was no pain, we felt it could have just been scar tissue."
"What we have to do now is focus on the positive and that he is only 21 years old, the world-renowned doctor is going to perform the surgery," Armstrong said. "[Fabbri] understands the importance of rehab having now been through that part once and he's now going to have to go in and he's going to have laser focus on preparing for next season.
"My understanding is that he's going to get the patella tendon harvested from the good knee now to go into the surgery here on the injured knee. There's a hope of a full recovery, but the reality is the more surgeries you have, things can go wrong. Again, I'm no doctor but I've been told by our training staff and by our doctors that they expect a full recovery."
Meanwhile, can Armstrong find an 18-20 goal player so close to the season? Maybe, maybe not. Something will have to give between now and Oct. 4.
"It's going to be have to be from a trade to get that, but I think we're going to have to score by committee," Armstrong said. "We're going to have to look at if Blais makes the team, if Thompson makes the team, Barbashev makes the team, if Sundqvist makes the team, some of these guys are going to have to produce offense. We're going to need offense throughout that lineup. Losing Robby's offense, losing Berglund's offense for the first part of the year, it's something that we're going to have to deal with and overcome. ... We have to overcome this."
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