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Cole suffers spinal contusion; puts his career in jeopardy heading into contract year

DETROIT >> Erik Cole’s NHL career could be over.

Cole announced Wednesday that he’s out for the rest of the season after suffering a spinal contusion on March 24 against the Arizona Coyotes.

“I consulted with a few doctors last week and I’ve been advised not to play the remainder of this season,” Cole said. “Just really disappointing, I was looking forward to be a part of the playoff run here and helping this team make a run to the Cup and I’m not gonna be able to do that.”

Cole skated for the first time in eight days during the Wings’ optional skate at Joe Louis Arena, Wednesday.

“Right now it’s just a wait and see and reevaluate the situation once everything is done,” Cole said. “I mean I could probably run around the country and the world looking for doctors to do something right now but I don’t think there’s anything that’s a real short-term fix for it.

“When you have a contusion like that, it’ll affect your nerves, can affect your motor functions, can be a bit clumsy even sending a text message or something like that,” Cole continued. “So something I definitely need to take serious and be careful with.”

Cole suffered a fractured vertebra while with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, an injury that kept him sidelined until Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

“So it stems back from my neck injury back in 2006 and when I ran into the player in the Arizona game, I bruised my spinal cord,” Cole said. “A spinal contusion is something that you have to let heal and obviously, a pretty serious occurrence. Something that at this time they feel I need to be looking out for my well-being as a person, not just as a hockey player.”

Surgery is an option, but Cole hasn’t discussed that further with the doctors.

“My understanding is that there’s not quick fix for this,” Cole said. “There’s nothing that can cure it in the short-term except for time. It’s just gonna be one of those things where I’m just gonna have to kind of rest a bit. I wanna obviously stay active and stay around the guys. The organization and the medical staff, the coaching staff and the players have all been really great to me over the last week.

“It’s been a pretty difficult pill to swallow and it was tough to stand up here in front of the guys and inform them of the news,” Cole continued. “I took most of last week and this past weekend I was in Carolina for Easter so I just wanted to let things sink in a bit and come back here and hopefully be a positive influence on the fellas and help out any way that I can.”

The Wing obtained Cole the night before the trade deadline from the Dallas Stars for a pair of prospects – Mattias Janmark (center) and Mattias Backman (defenseman), who are both playing in Sweden – and a second-round pick.

Cole, 36, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

“I mean I’m sure that teams are gonna be scared regardless,” Cole said when asked about his upcoming free agency. “I’m certain that at my age and my stage of my career I wasn’t expecting too many big offers coming across the table. It’s the least of my worries right now, it’s just about being a healthy individual and worrying about my future and being able to play with my kids and things like that.”

Cole finished the season with 21 goals and 18 assists in 68 games.

Jimmy Howard has a target date for his return … Feb. 11 in Pittsburgh

DETROIT >> As far as recovering from an injury goes, everything is right on track for Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

Howard took part in his first practice with the team Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena, albeit splitting time with Tom McCollum, since injuring his groin in the first period Jan. 10 in Washington.

“Even though it was just spot duty it felt great to be back out there,” Howard said. “I was out there before on my own with (goalie coach) Jimmy (Bedard) and then came out and did all the goalie drills at the beginning and stayed out for about 30 minutes in practice. It was good, didn’t really feel anything, so we’re just going to continue to push it.”

The best news is he has a target date to return, a week from Wednesday on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think we’re right on schedule of where we want to be,” Howard said. “We don’t want to push it too soon, but we also don’t want to be out longer than I have to be, so we’re doing everything I think at the right pace.

“Hopefully against Pittsburgh I’ll be back out there,” Howard continued. “That’s what we’re shooting for. At first we had Phoenix circled, but we thought that would probably be just rushing it a little too much and Pitt will allow me a couple more practices to push it.”

Howard will gradually increase the intensity at practices during the Wings’ trip to Colorado and Arizona.

“Basically I bag myself out there so the legs and lungs are ready to go,” Howard said.

Howard was injured after he gave the puck away behind the net and then lunged his left leg backwards to try and reach the post before Washington’s Troy Brouwer scored just 1:53 into the first period.

He was carted off on a stretcher.

“I think I definitely escaped series injury,” Howard said. “When it happened I was really nervous, not being able to put any pressure on the leg or basically walk. I was on crutches for 24-48 hours. It responded well after a couple of days of being off of it.”

Howard is in the midst of having one of his best seasons in Detroit, posting a 16-7-7 record, with a 2.11 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

He was also the Wings’ lone All-Star choice, but could not participate at the event because of the injury.

Despite his absence Detroit has gone 7-1-0 with Petr Mrazek getting the bulk of the workload.

“It’s progressed every single day, so it’s good,” Howard said. “We haven’t had any setbacks, knock on wood. Hopefully we can just keep pushing it.”

Message at practice Tuesday was simple … “Our compete level has to be higher and better.”

DETROIT >> Quick update from Wings practice at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday.

The message from coach Mike Babcock was quite simple after the team’s 5-2 loss Monday in Boston.

“The message was clear, our compete level has to be higher and better,” Kyle Quincey said.

The Wings were facing a Boston roster that was missing two of its key players – Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic – and trailed 3-1 after the first period after being outshot 19-12.

“Complacency, I don’t know what it is, we weren’t prepared,” Babcock said Tuesday after practice. “You can look at. We went to Toronto, it was five in eight nights. We were fresh (Monday). We had a nice practice day in Boston. We just had three days off for Christmas, we should have skated and competed hard. They were upset. They were missing two key players. They came out and skated us into the ground. Worked us hard, competed and won every battle and every race and in the end we go home feeling like we do.

“I’m a big believer, the sun gets up the next day, that’s how I operate,” Babcock continued. “When the sun doesn’t get up there’s something wrong. It got up today.”

The Wings gave up a season high 45 shots on goal.

“There wasn’t much talking out there,” Quincey said. “Our starts have been too slow. That’s an emphasis going into tomorrow night and the rest of the year.

“I wouldn’t say we’re worried,” Quincey added. “We have to be better. I think if today’s message sinks in we’ll be fine. If we can start competing at the very first second of the game and follow through for 60 minutes we’ll be OK.”

Ouellet only change to Wings lineup tonight against Florida

DETROIT >> Quick update from the Red Wings’ morning skate prior to the hosting the Florida Panthers at Joe Louis Arena.

Defenseman Xavier Ouellet will replace Danny DeKeyser in the lineup.

Ouellet made the two and a half hour trip from Grand Rapids to Detroit on Thursday.

“I think everybody’s been through this, especially in this organization, just like Nyquist, Sheahan, Mrazek, Tatar, even Smitty have been up and down, up and down for almost two years before being here for regular,” Ouellet said. “I’m just going through what everyone else has been through. I understand that. They support me.”

Ouellet has appeared in five games this season, recently filling in for an injured Brendan Smith, totaling a goal, an assist and a plus-3 rating.

“I felt good last time I was here, went down and had a couple good games,” Ouellet said. “I’m back here. I’ve got to be consistent and play the same game I did when I was here last time.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock said that Ouellet will be the only change from the lineup he used in Wednesday’s shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Wings do move into first place in Eastern Conference

DETROIT >> The Wings will go to bed Wednesday night and wake up Thursday morning knowing the same thing.

They’re in first place overall in the Eastern Conference.

The point the Wings earned in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena, moved them a point ahead of ideal Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh for first overall in the East.

“Getting points is good when you can get them,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “Obviously we wanted two here at home, but one point is better than no points. If you look how the game ended with a 3-on-4 there for almost a minute I think we’re going to be OK with this tomorrow and move on.”

Niklas Kronwall was sent off for goalie interference with 57 seconds left in overtime.

“I thought we played good,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s over with to me. We got a point. They stole two points but I’ll take it every night. If you play like that you’re going to win.”

Abdelkader skates with team, but has been ruled out for Wednesday; Cleary appears back to being a healthy scratch

DETROIT >> Quick update from Wings’ practice Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena.

Justin Abdelkader took part in his first practice with the team wearing a gray “non-contact” jersey.

He won’t play Wednesday when Detroit hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Not bad, feeling better,” Abdelkader said. “Today was a good day to skate with the team. No contact. It’s not quite there yet, but it was nice to be out there and skate. Hopefully keep getting better. I think it’s made some good strides over the last few days.”

Abdelkader suffered a slightly separated left shoulder when he was hit by Vancouver’s Luca Sbisa a week ago last Sunday.

“It’s just one of those things where you just can’t put an exact time line on things,” Abdelkader said. “You’ve just got to see how it feels, see the trainers and I guess I’ve got to get my strength back and full range of motion.

“You know you’re getting closer, but you know you’re not quite there yet,” Abdelkader said. “I’m just happy I’m able to be out there and skate with the guys. That’s going to hopefully make it so when I’m ready. I can back into the lineup quicker.”

Abdelkader is off to his best start of his career with seven goals and eight assists through 24 games.

“Just full range of motion and shooting is going to take a little bit,” Abdelkader said. “I think it was positive that I was able to skate out there and do lots of things. Hopefully, it’ll keep coming as quickly as it has the past few days.”

Daniel Cleary appears to be back out of the lineup. He was the extra forward that worked in with the top two lines.

Weiss returns to Wings’ lineup. “It’s a good opportunity for him,” Babcock says.

DETROIT >> Stephen Weiss will be back in the Wings’ lineup tonight at home against the Ottawa Senators.

And for how long he remains in it will be up to him.

“It’s a good opportunity for him, he’s going to have to grab ahold of it, obviously,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the team’s morning skate Monday at Joe Louis Arena. “He’s had a good NHL career. It’s been sidetracked for two years.

“The way I look at it is I’m in the day to say winning business,” Babcock continued. “I get up each day and I’m trying to find a way to win the game and I’ll play whoever gives us the best chance to win.”

Weiss, who has played in one other game this season, has played in 47 out of a possible 150 regular season games for his teams since the start of 2013.

“Now it’s up to him,” Babcock said. “We’re in the business of winning games and everyone’s got to command their share of the ice and get their share of the ice time. We’ll see what happens.”

Weiss will play left wing on line Tomas Jurco and centered by Darren Helm.

“I’ve played a few games (at wing), but I’ve been a center all my life,” Weiss said. “It’s just different.

“I don’t know how to really explain it,” Weiss continued. “You’ve just got to be more aware in the D zone, a little bit different coverages. I’m just used to playing center and being able to move the puck both ways. On the wing, you’re more so limited to one side of the ice. It’ll be fine.”

During his two-game conditioning stint in Grand Rapids he scored a goal in each game.

“It was nice to play some minutes and get through the games (with) no problem,” Weiss said. “I would have liked to get a little bit more accomplished, but it was nice to score a couple and get that feeling back. It’s been a while since I’ve scored a goal.”