The Toronto Maple Leafs' already dubious blueline has become even more suspect.
The Leafs have been secretive about the health of defenceman Karel Pilar, but a World Wide Web site in the Czech Republic revealed yesterday that this summer he suffered a recurrence of a heart condition that forced him to miss the final 45 games of the 2002-03 National Hockey League season and the first 16 matches in 2003-04.
Pilar, 28, is expected to miss the first two to three months this season, and if he doesn't suffer any further setbacks, is hoping to return to action in late December.
The Czech was working out this month in Prague when he experienced dizziness and did not feel well. He suffered similar symptoms two years ago and his career was put on hold.
Doctors in the Czech Republic could not pinpoint the recent problem, so the Leafs flew him to Montreal to have him examined by the heart specialist who diagnosed his condition two years ago.
The specialist confirmed that Pilar has suffered another bout of viral myopathy, a condition in which a virus settles in the heart, stiffening the muscle to the point it does not pump enough blood to the body.
"Karel will come back to the Czech Republic and will undergo treatment there," said his agent, Robert Spalenka.
"We were informed that he has to interrupt his training for the next two to three months," Spalenka added. "If everything goes well, around Christmas, Karel should put his skates on and start training again. The specialist from Montreal is optimistic."
Pilar was optimistic about this season. He returned home last winter to play for Sparta Prague and enjoyed a solid season, scoring 13 goals and 28 points in 52 games. But he wasn't selected to play for the Czech Republic at the world championship, a team he won a gold medal with four years ago.
"We assume that Karel will be back by December," Spalenka said. "He knows best how he feels. His illness is treatable, after a necessary break he will be back playing hockey as before."
Where does this leave the Leafs, 13 days before their training camp opens? Pilar was slotted as a sixth defenceman behind Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Ken Klee, Alexander Khavanov and Aki Berg.
The Leafs are interested in signing rugged blueliner Brad Brown. But general manager John Ferguson Jr. must now decide whether to wait and see if Pilar can recover and hope prospect Carlo Colaiacovo can step up, or sign a puck-moving defenceman.
Pilar is unsigned. The Leafs were negotiating a deal with him for $500,000 (U.S.) a year.