The National Hockey League Players’ Association is expected to file a grievance Tuesday morning against the Tampa Bay Lightning on behalf of left wing Stephane Veilleux for not covering costs for a shoulder surgery the Lightning winger needs this week, agent Allan Walsh told the Star Tribune on Monday night.
Veilleux, 28, the former Wild sparkplug who’s spending the offseason in Minnesota, is scheduled to undergo surgery by well-known Cleveland-based shoulder specialist Tony Miniaci to repair a torn labrum.
But according to Walsh, the Lightning has told Veilleux that the injury was not “hockey-related” and that he’s on his own for all costs, including getting to and from the surgery.
According to Walsh, the Lightning team doctor discovered during Veilleux’s end-of-the-season physical that one of his shoulders was weaker than the other. He ordered a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Test and found that Veilleux had a cyst.
Because Veilleux knows the Wild doctors well, he went for a second opinion to Wild physician Sheldon Burns, who referred him to Edina shoulder specialist Thomas Nelson.
Nelson discovered the torn labrum.
“He said it has to be fixed,” Walsh said. “The rotator cuff has not atrophied. Once they atrophy, they never come back. He said if we allow the situation to go on and don’t do the surgery now, if he plays next year with it, he’ll either dislocate his shoulder or he’s going to lose permanent strength or start to feel pain.”
Walsh called Miniaci to schedule surgery, but when Veilleux called the Lightning to set up plane tickets, he was informed the Lightning won’t pay for anything, Walsh said.
Walsh called Lightning interim GM Tom Kurvers.
“They acknowledge when he left Minnesota and was examined by the Wild doctors in the end-of-season medical [in 2009], he was fine, so this was not a previous injury,” said Walsh. “And the same Lightning doctor that detected this problem and became suspicious at the end of this season cleared him at the beginning of the season because both shoulders had the same level of strength.
“Tampa’s response is, ‘Yes, our doctor agrees, it has to be fixed now, he definitely has a torn labrum and he needs surgery, however, it’s not a hockey-related injury, so we’re not responsible,’” Walsh said.
Walsh said the Lightning believes it’s not a hockey-related injury because it can’t pinpoint an exact moment on the ice when the injury occurred.
“They’re well aware that these kind of injuries – ACL tears, MCL tears, labral tears – are very difficult to pinpoint because many times they happen with no pain,” Walsh said.
Reached via email, Kurvers told the Star Tribune, “Per club policy, we are not inclined to discuss specifics with any player’s injury, its treatment or circumstances surrounding the injury publicly.
“Stephane is a valued member of the Lightning organization and we fully intend on providing any necessary medical care as dictated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
Of course, the last line is key. If the Lightning is indeed claiming Veilleux’s injury is not hockey-related, the CBA states that the Lightning is not responsible.
“This is 100 percent hockey related,” Walsh said. “There’s no other explanation for it.”
According to Walsh, “Kurvers suggested maybe he hurt it playing ping-pong.”
Ping-pong is a favorite hobby of Veilleux’s and he often played the game in the Lightning’s practice facility and arena. But teams allow this type of activity.
For instance, Marian Gaborik originally injured himself in 2008-09 playing soccer hackeysack. He missed 65 games and the Wild covered all of his medical costs.
Regardless, Walsh says Veilleux’s injury occurred on the ice.
Walsh said he is filing the grievance now because there is no time to wait for this situation to sort itself out. Veilleux is a free agent this summer and must get surgery so he can begin recovery and latch on with a team.
“We’re not risking putting his career in jeopardy,” Walsh said.
Walsh said Kurvers told him the decision not to cover Veilleux’s medical costs “is coming directly from the owner [Jeff Vinik].”
“In all my years of representing players, I have never seen an NHL team so recklessly abandon one of their own in this manner,” Walsh said.
In Wild news, the team began its weeklong amateur scouting meetings Monday in St. Paul. The Wild (currently) owns eight picks in the June 25-26 Draft in Los Angeles, three in the top 56 starting at ninth overall.
The Wild plans to scout the Memorial Cup, which begins Friday and includes Calgary Hitmen forward and Wild prospect Kris Foucault, who tied for 17th in Western Hockey League scoring with 16 points (nine goals).
The Wild also will be at the Draft combine later this month in Toronto. That includes the top-100 or so draft-eligible players.