The Washington Times - February 13, 2013, 05:15PM

TAMPA, Fla. | Brooks Laich has been cleared for contact by trainer Greg Smith, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates said, but it’s still uncertain how long it will take the forward to make his season debut as he battles a groin injury.

Laich has not played this season after suffering the injury while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout. He has been skating with the team regularly as well as doing off-ice workouts. His first day on the ice with teammates didn’t come until Jan. 31.


The 29-year-old took part in Wednesday’s practice at Tampa Bay Times Forum and did some stopping and starting. He appeared to be in pain while doing so.

“I think it’s that type of injury it’s really difficult to figure out where you’re at,” Oates said. “I know Smitty told me he’s allowed to have contact. I think it’s going to be a day-to-day basis evaluation because it’s one of those things where we don’t want to set it back, but how do we test it?”

Not risking Laich aggravating the groin injury is a delicate balance for the coaching staff, training staff, Laich and his teammates. He’s not going to take big shots in practice, but he needs a little contact to know if the groin feels better.

“We’ll get some drills where he gets to engage and minor contact,” Oates said. “Really, he’s going to be on the ice so guarded and protecting it that the real test will be when he gets that bump when he’s not expecting it.”

Still, progressing from just skating to taking contact in practice is a significant step.

“I think it’s very big,” Oates said. “Obviously we got to get through some contact where he feels good, and then we know we’re going in the right direction. But I’m sure for him it’s obviously a step going in the right direction.”

Laich has been unwilling to talk about his injury when asked recently for updates. Oates can empathize with his player’s plight in this case.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “It happened to me twice in my career where I had an abdominal tear and it was very frustrating because you didn’t feel like it was healing and all of a sudden one day it was fine. There was no line that it went down.”