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Leafs Dave Bolland (63) gets a short-handed goal during the first period of the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the ACC in Toronto, Ontario on Oct. 26, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Leafs Dave Bolland (63) gets a short-handed goal during the first period of the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the ACC in Toronto, Ontario on Oct. 26, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Mirtle: Injury complication means Leafs must be careful with Bolland deal Add to ...

The cut was so deep it went through not only his tendon but muscle tissue as well, nearly threatening the ankle bone underneath.

Dave Bolland relays that matter-of-factly now, more than three months after it happened, but the after effects of that devastating skate blade injury continue to be felt.

With the team on its trip through Florida, Bolland is finally nearing his return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup, either just before the Olympic break or soon after. He has been skating regularly and hard with his teammates for weeks now, to the point the team is optimistic he can fully regain his strength in the ankle.

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But Bolland now requires a modified skate boot on his left foot – and likely will for the rest of his career – to accommodate the fact his one ankle is so scarred up that it’s much larger than the other.

And the pain that he has had to push through in rehab isn’t going anywhere either.

“It’s going to be like that for probably the rest of this year,” he said. “And maybe in the summer.”

It’s not hard to see what the Leafs love about Bolland. His attitude, work ethic and play during the 14 games he was healthy were exemplary, and he has earned high praise from pretty much everyone on staff for the way he has battled through this latest challenge.

While teammates not bound for the Olympics will be hitting the beach next week, Bolland will be part of his own personal boot camp with his former junior team, the London Knights, where the Hunter brothers will surely bag skate him daily.

Coach Randy Carlyle, in other words, would be more than happy to have a team of Bollands, especially after embarrassing outings like the one his team put forth in Florida on Tuesday.

But the complicating factors in keeping him beyond this season are many, with a difficult negotiation process going on now on a contract extension.

Consider the two sides at play.

Bolland, at 27, has finally reached unrestricted free agency for the first time and, coming off a tough injury, is understandably looking for term and security after never really getting a big money deal in his career.

Leafs GM Dave Nonis, meanwhile, has to grapple with just how to evaluate a player who put in one great month for his team and now has some obvious health-related questions hanging over him.

What makes the most sense for Toronto is to sign a deal with a shortish term and not too much risk attached to it – say two years in the neighbourhood of just under $4-million a season – to ensure that the Bolland they saw for 14 games is what they’re getting.

But no one will hold it against the player here for pushing for the best possible deal.

The first sign that negotiations had hit an impasse came on Tuesday night, when TSN reported that Nonis may shop Bolland as a rental player before the March 5 trade deadline. Whether that’s just posturing or a legitimate option remains to be seen, but it does highlight just how tough this situation is.

Both sides have said they don’t want Bolland’s injury to affect contract talks, which had begun in some form even before he was hurt. But it’s hard to imagine the Leafs not at least hedging a little more than they would have had he continued that hot start into a career year in his first season in Toronto.

“The past few years I’ve won two Stanley Cups, and I’ve been to the finals and know what it’s like to get there,” Bolland said when asked if felt being out so long would impact negotiations. “I’ve been through those battles. So I don’t think this should hinder any kind of contract. I think they know what I do and what kind of heart I have out there.”

Part of the problem for Nonis here is centre ice is one of the two key areas (the other being defence) still in major need of upgrading and giving a big contract to Bolland could hinder his ability to do so.

The debate then becomes just how much of an impact Bolland can have and if he can play higher in the lineup. He has only been a 42-point player (per 82 games) in his career, has played more than 61 games in a season just twice and even slipped into fourth line minutes at one point in Chicago.

Add in concerns over this latest injury and how he’ll rebound from it, and there are plenty of obstacles in the way of getting a reasonable deal done.

Even if the Leafs would like nothing more than to have a more Dave Bollands in the lineup every night.

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