Tom Poti had every reason to prop up a pillow and call it a career.
A 35-year-old defenseman who hasn’t played a game in almost two years, Poti is being paid $2.875 million this season whether he steps on the ice or not.
On Thursday, Poti stepped on the ice in a Capitals jersey for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
“I never closed the book on myself,” Poti said after his first practice with the Capitals since recovering from a fractured pelvis. “I could have sat at home and collected a paycheck and been happy. But hockey is what I love to do. It’s in my blood and I want to play for as long as I can.”
For the record, Capitals general manager George McPhee wondered last season if Poti would ever play again and said on Tuesday that he thought Poti was a “longshot” to make the Capitals’ opening-night roster.
But McPhee also invited Poti to camp and said he would find a place for him if he shows he can play at the NHL level.
That, Poti said, is all he’s asking.
“That’s all I’m asking for is a chance,” he said. “I don’t want anything special. No handouts, no nothing. I just want to go out and play. If they think I can help the team I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
Seems Poti already has.
It was during a game on Dec. 21, 2011 that Poti was checked hard into the boards by Devils forward Dainuus Zubrus. He said he “heard a little pop” and was diagnosed with a groin strain at the time, but when Poti continued to feel pain throughout his rehab, the Capitals sent him to Dr. Stephen Brunt in St. Louis for further testing. A subsequent MRI showed a small fracture in Poti’s pelvis and he was ordered to be shut down.
“I did more damage to myself by trying to come back that year than I should have, Poti said. “And my stubbornness kind of kept me from maybe playing last year.”
Poti said he went through extensive rehab last season, including acupuncture sessions that he says were beneficial.
He said he has been skating for the past two weeks without pain and is hoping that trend continues when he starts taking physical contact at training camp next week.
Brooks Laich, a teammate of Poti’s when he last played for the Caps, said he did a “double-take” when he saw Poti walk into the dressing room Thursday.
“Tom was a veteran guy around here,” Laich said. “He was a guy who played a lot of minutes and we leaned on a lot, he was a big loss. He says he feels good and if he can go it will be a bit addition for our club.”
The Caps have a top-four defensive depth chart of Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik. And with rookie Dmitry Orlov sidelined by an apparent concussion, Poti would compete with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen and Cam Schilling for a spot on the roster.
“You kind of throw yourself into the fire,” he said. “You learn quicker that way and kind of get used to things better. This week will be a big test for me and I’m up for the challenge.”
Poti said there were several times he considered hanging up his skates, but he never gave in.
“Hockey’s my passion,” he said. “I still love it to this day. And I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do everything possible to try to get back on the ice and try to play. And that’s what I did for the last two years.”