For Ryan Parent, the last 2 months have been a tough haul.
What started out as a seemingly minor ache for the Flyers' youngest defenseman will culminate today with arthroscopic surgery at Lankenau Hospital.
The Daily News first reported on Jan. 4 that a herniated disc in his back may require surgery. Parent's lower back started giving him trouble in juniors 3 years ago when he missed 23 games with the Guelph Storm in the OHL because of a bulging disc.
The Flyers knew about the injury when they acquired the former first-round pick from Nashville in the Peter Forsberg trade in February 2007, but Parent didn't have any more problems with it until this season.
"I had a similar injury before, but my back hadn't bothered me up until about 2 months ago," Parent said. "This time, it started out as a backache and then it just got worse."
Parent has not skated with the Flyers since Dec. 26, when his flare-up was so bad that it caused him to be a late scratch from their post-holiday game in Carolina. Parent has missed the last 15 games; he posted two assists as a minus-5 in 28 games.
For the last few weeks, Parent attempted to rehab the injury and push off surgery until the offseason. That didn't work. Parent, doctors and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren agreed over the weekend to proceed with surgery.
"It was frustrating," Parent said. "I spent the last month or so trying to do everything I can to let my body heal itself and avoid surgery."
"After running the gamut with Ryan in terms of different things we have tried to relieve the discomfort he was having, we felt this was the way to go for Ryan's overall health," Holmgren said in a statement.
The arthroscopic procedure, to remove a fragment of bone stuck in his lower spine, will keep him out approximately 6 weeks. Parent will be aided by the NHL's 2-week work stoppage in February for the Olympic Games in Vancouver.
"If there is a good time to have surgery, I guess it's the Olympic break," Parent said. "The doctors said 4 to 6 weeks, obviously with 4 being early. With 6 weeks, though, hopefully I'll be in a position to come back [this season]."
Holmgren said he isn't concerned about any lingering effects on Parent's back, even though Parent is only 22. The whole point of the surgery, Parent said, is to nip the problem in the bud.
"They say that with a surgery like this, you can feel immediate results," Parent said. "That's what I'm hoping for."
Since 6 weeks from today - the timetable set by doctors for Ryan Parent's recovery - is March 8, Paul Holmgren will be in a unique position at the trade deadline. Will he need depth on defense?
The deadline is March 3 at 3 p.m.
Aside from Parent, the Flyers are missing defenseman Danny Syvret, who will be out until at least Feb. 8 because he is on the Long Term Injured Reserve. Holmgren knows that solid, third-pairing defensemen are hard to come by in the NHL.
"To be honest, we talk all the time," Holmgren said of possible moves. "We've got to improve our hockey team, so that doesn't change."
Oskars Bartulis, who was called up on Nov. 9 and has reeled off 37 straight games, is a team worst minus-13. Bartulis has been playing on the third pairing recently with Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who has been sidelined most of the season with injuries. Tollefsen is a minus-1 with two points in 16 games.
Holmgren was seen chatting with Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter during last Thursday's game at the Wachovia Center. Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf has been rumored to be on his way out all season. The Flyers, who would need to sacrifice significant salary to afford Phaneuf's hard-hitting style and $6.5 million cap hit, play in Calgary 1 week from tonight. Bringing in a top-end defenseman like Phaneuf could be an alternative to moving spare parts.
"Whatever kind of defenseman you're looking for," Holmgren said, "they're a hot commodity. It's hard to make a deal."
Claude Giroux, who had received praise from Peter Laviolette for his play at center, was moved to the wing yesterday with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. The line combined for four of the Flyers' 28 shots, with another four attempts blocked . . . Yesterday was Pittsburgh's first afternoon game of the season . . . Yesterday was also Simon Gagne's 633rd game as a Flyer, tying him for 11th on the all-time list with Rod Brind'Amour.