'Soreness' in knee puts off workout
ATLANTA -- Injured Atlanta Thrashers star Dany Heatley was expected to return to the ice Tuesday morning for the first time since the car accident that took the life of teammate and close friend Dan Snyder in late September, however soreness in his knee has postponed the workout.
"He's already ahead of schedule, so I wouldn't term it a setback," a team source told ESPN.com, who added Heatley will wait "a couple of days" before skating.
Heatley, who is recovering from extensive knee surgery to repair a completely torn anterior cruciate ligament and a complete tear of the medial collateral ligament as well as a torn lateral meniscus, was expected to test the knee during a solo session with a team trainer at the team's practice facility north of the city. When he does begin skating, general manager Don Waddell will observe the workout, which is expected to last no more than 20 minutes, and then discuss Heatley's rehabilitation program.
Heatley is not expected to talk to reporters. He has yet to address the media since the Sept. 29 accident.
The skate will be significant in that it will test Heatley's pain threshold as well as mark the first steps toward a return to action that now looks probable for the end of February.
Heatley underwent surgery on Oct. 7 and once he resumes skating regularly, it is customary to expect six to eight weeks of rehabilitation before he would be in game shape.
Although he has yet to attend a Thrashers game or accompany the team on the road, Heatley has been included in many of the daily routines surrounding the squad. He has been working out with teammates, attending team meetings and sitting in on the daily video sessions that are part of coach Bob Hartley's routine.
"He's been part of the team," one team official said Sunday.
Although Heatley continues to struggle mightily with the burden of guilt following the accident, the former rookie of the year has been buoyed by the reassuring words of the Snyder family. Family members have insisted throughout that they do not blame Heatley for Dan Snyder's death and do not want to see him jailed.
Recently, Snyder's brother Jake spent a week in Atlanta, along with Snyder's father Graham, who stayed for a shorter period of time.
In eulogizing his brother, Jake Snyder promised to look out for Heatley.
"If you're one of Dan's guys, you're one of my guys," he said. "Friends look out for each other no matter how tough the circumstances. So I'll look out for you as much as I can because I know in my heart this is exactly what my brother would want."
Both were guests of Heatley during their stay and were frequent visitors to the dressing room.
Heatley's parents and brother have also been constant visitors since the accident.
Heatley, a native of Calgary, was driving his black Ferrari when he lost control on a narrow, winding Atlanta street and crashed into a brick pillar and metal fence at about 10:30 p.m. Sept. 29.
Police believe the car was traveling in excess of 80 miles per hour.
Snyder was ejected from the ruined car and never regained consciousness. He underwent emergency brain surgery but died six days later.
Heatley suffered various injuries including a broken jaw, bruised kidney and nerve damage to his shoulder.
He faces charges of vehicular homicide and other traffic charges in connection with the accident.
There has been much debate over how the case should best be dealt with by the courts, although a final decision isn't expected on how local prosecutors will proceed until early in the new year.
Heatley and Snyder, who were roomates at the time of the accident, just 11 days before the start of the regular season, had been at a function for season ticket holders prior to meeting teammates for a late dinner.
Forensic tests indicate alcohol was not a factor in the accident.
Because Heatley wasn't drunk, and Snyder's relatives said they forgave him, prosecutors could decide the car crash was just an accident, with no need to pursue felony charges and sentences ranging from three to 15 years.
Erik Friedly, a spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney, said Monday the investigation is continuing.
"We still have to make a formal charging decision," Friedly said. "Hopefully, it'll be a matter of a few weeks."
Heatley is the team's all-time leading scorer with 156 points in 159 games.
He finished sixth in NHL goal scoring last season with 41 and finished ninth with 89 points.
The native of Calgary had been picked by many to assume a leadership role not only in the Thrashers' dressing room but throughout the NHL as one of the game's brightest young stars.
The Thrashers have responded with an inspired start to the season and lead the Southeast Division with a 16-12-3-1 record and 36 points.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.