The Penguins have known for a while that Jordan Staal would have to sit out the early part of the regular season.
With training camp entering its final week Staal still has not gone through any off-ice workouts -- let alone put a skate on his injured right foot -- and has no timetable for when he expects to be able to skate or play.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs with this foot," Staal said Thursday. "I can't really put my finger on when I'll be back."
That sentiment was seconded by general manager Ray Shero, who said that, "personally, I don't have a timetable for him to come back."
Staal has been fighting a stubborn infection in his right foot, the top of which was cut by the skate of Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in May.
He underwent a series of procedures once the infection was detected in the offseason, but only recently did the effects of his condition begin to fade. Now, he says, his foot is pain-free, which suggests the infection is under control, if not eradicated.
Even so, he has not been able to do even off-ice workouts -- "[The doctor] says, just kick up my foot," Staal said.
"It's been a lot of relaxing and not doing a whole lot, which is really frustrating"-- although he hopes to start those in a few days.
"I'm not really close to [skating] yet," Staal said. "I'm hopefully going to start working out next week and get my leg back into shape. It's kind of withered away a little bit.
"It's a long process, and, obviously, we have a long way to go, considering I didn't really work out a whole lot this summer and have to get myself into shape and be ready to play NHL hockey."
When the Penguins issued their most recent medical update on Staal two weeks ago, their projection was that he might be able to resume playing in five or six weeks.
Given the multi-step challenge before him -- building a conditioning base, getting back on the ice, working his way into playing shape, etc. -- that seems optimistic at this point.
Still, even though all concerned were adamant about not setting a timetable for Staal to rejoin the lineup, coach Dan Bylsma suggested the absence might not last quite as long as some outsiders suspect.
"He may get 75 [games], he may get 70 games, he may get 68," Bylsma said. "This will be a blip in his season, not as big of a deal as it looks right now for him."
Whenever Staal's season begins, he likely will be in a different role than the one he filled during most of his first four pro seasons.
After centering what developed into one of the NHL's finest No. 3 lines, Staal is penciled in to play alongside Evgeni Malkin on the second line.
The new job description likely will not be as big a shock to him as simply spending some game nights in street clothes.
Staal sat out just two games of the Montreal series after Subban's skate sliced a tendon on the top of his foot, and he has missed just one regular-season game in four NHL seasons. His string of 302 consecutive games-played is the second longest in franchise history.
"It's the first bump in my career," Staal said. "I'm sure everyone goes through it. I'll get through it."
Staal has kept a low profile in training camp -- "I've been hiding out pretty good, just kind of sitting home and relaxing," he said -- and acknowledged that "there are a lot of long nights when I can't sleep" while fretting about the infection.
Nonetheless, he flatly denied having any concerns that the infection, and the problems it caused, could have an impact on his performance once he returns to work. Something along those lines happened a year ago to teammate Max Talbot, who never got his game in sync after undergoing shoulder surgery that forced him to sit out the first quarter of the season.
"His surgery was pretty major, and, from what I can tell, the way I'm heading right now, it doesn't seem as major as [Talbot's problem]," Staal said. "I feel pretty comfortable that once I get into good shape, I should be fine throughout the season."
Perhaps, and he is confident he is moving in that direction, even if he does not know how soon he will arrive.
"I'm obviously on the right path now, hopefully," Staal said. "It seems like everything is going in the right direction."
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published October 1, 2010 4:00 AM