Andy McDonald was back practicing with the Blues on Friday morning, wearing a "no contact" red jersey. That's good news. It means McDonald has progressed enough to take his comeback from another concussion another step forward.
But one should be careful about getting too excited by the development. The fact McDonald is skating doesn't mean he's poised to rejoin the lineup, in a few days, a few weeks, or ever for that matter.
McDonald can't afford to have that kind of tunnel vision. He is missing extended time with concussion symptoms for the second time in less than a year. McDonald missed 24 games after suffering a concussion Dec. 4, 2010 in a game at Edmonton. He played in only three games this season before being concussed again Oct. 13 at Dallas.
And there were concussions before that, including one in 2003 that kept him from participating in the Anaheim Ducks' run to the Stanley Cup finals. He is 34 years young and, with his wife Gina, has a 4-year old boy named Jake and a daughter, Ella, 1.
When he went down with still another head injury at Dallas, McDonald had to give serious thought to whether he should come back, as well as if he could.
"Probably the first week or two after I was out, I thought that I was probably done for good," McDonald said. "I felt like with the way I was feeling, and with my history, there was just no way I would come back. But I've had a pretty good turnaround and I've been feeling really good, so ..."
It's encouraging news but it comes with an asterisk. McDonald is feeling a lot better and experiencing no headaches. But he still has moments of "fogginess," sometimes after exerting himself, sometimes for no apparent reason. He is not out of the woods, yet.
"I'm not symptom-free," he said. "I'm probably 90 to 95 percent right now. So I felt, and the decision was made with the doctors and the training staff here, that it was safe to go out and skate and try to get to the next level.
"But I'm not symptom-free. I just have to hope that with some practice and a little more time that it will turn into 100 percent."
If seeing McDonald on skates was encouraging, the concussion news was not entirely positive Friday. As the Blues prepared for Nashville at a morning skate, Alex Steen was conspicuously absent.
Afterward, Hitchcock revealed Steen was having concussion symptoms. The Blues' leading goal scorer was not in the lineup against the Predators and is likely to miss a rematch with the Red Wings tonight at Detroit.
The Blues did welcome back several other players Friday. T .J. Oshie (wrist) and Jamie Langenbrunner (flu) returned to the lineup after missing two games each. Vladimir Sobotka (ankle) also returned after being out since Dec. 13. In addition, defenseman Ian Cole stepped into the breach, replacing injured Kris Russell.