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‘He looks good’: Knights captain cleared for contact before playoffs

Updated April 20, 2024 - 4:41 pm

Mark Stone looked like himself.

The elite hand-eye coordination was there. The timing and puck placement couldn’t have been better.

All that’s left is to get him into a game.

The possibility of the Golden Knights’ captain joining the team for the playoffs is increasing after he was cleared for full contact Saturday for the first time since suffering a Grade 3 lacerated spleen in February.

“I think he looks good,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Hopefully he gets the green light.”

Stone returned to practice in a noncontact role April 12, but this was the first time to gauge where the 31-year-old right wing could slot into the lineup for Game 1 against the Dallas Stars on Monday.

Stone skated at second-line right wing with Chandler Stephenson at left wing and center Tomas Hertl.

Cassidy said Sunday’s practice will be a good test for Stone before the Knights begin their Stanley Cup championship defense.

Stone was not shy on taking bumps at practice. He was active in drills below the goal line that require a fair share of pushing and shoving.

Stone was not available for comment, as he has yet to be activated from long-term injured reserve.

“The games get tougher now,” Cassidy said. “The more manpower at your disposable, the better.”

General manager Kelly McCrimmon said March 8 that there was uncertainty Stone would be ready for the beginning of the playoffs.

McCrimmon said Saturday that in the initial meeting with team doctors, the timeline was three to six months, or much less if everything progressed smoothly.

Salary cap questions

McCrimmon also addressed the speculation and legitimacy of Stone’s injury based on the timing of it.

The Knights placed Stone on LTIR, allowing for Stone’s $9.5 million cap hit to be used for salary cap relief. They then acquired Hertl, defenseman Noah Hanifin and right wing Anthony Mantha and fit all three within the $83.5 million salary cap, with their trade partner retaining a percentage of each player’s salary (Hertl 17 percent, Hanifin 25, Mantha 50).

McCrimmon said the NHL is “100 percent involved in any of these LTIR situations” and that the league has access to every filed document based on the diagnosis.

This will mark the second consecutive season Stone will be ready for the playoffs after missing the second half of the season. He had his second back surgery in less than a year in January 2023 and returned before Game 1 of the first round against the Winnipeg Jets.

“He’s a dedicated guy. He’s an optimistic player,” McCrimmon said. “He did everything humanly possible that you could do to recover as quickly as possible.”

The playoffs have historically been Stone’s best time of the year.

He has scored 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 68 playoff games with the Knights. That includes 24 (11 goals, 13 assists) in the 22-game run to the Stanley Cup, including the Cup-clinching hat trick in Game 5 against Florida.

The Knights are the second wild card heading into the playoffs, but Stone’s return could make them a dangerous lower seed.

“We’ll see how he responds tomorrow,” Cassidy said.

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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