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Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador placed on waivers

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador works point during Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 wover Buffalo Sabres Wednesday January 18 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador works the point during the Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday January 18, 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 13, 2013 6:39AM

Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador’s been around the NHL long enough to know he’s not supposed to talk about injuries. He’s supposed to be vague and elusive, deceptive and deliberately obtuse. Never show any weakness, never give an opponent something to exploit. Upper-body this, lower-body that. More than a decade into his career, the 33-year-old knows the drill.

But here he was in the bowels of the Pepsi Center in Denver on Friday, speaking candidly, intensely and emotionally about the depression that set in during his excruciating — and potentially never-ending — recovery from a concussion he suffered last February. About his very real fear that he’d never get to play again.

The excitement of being so close to returning to the game he loves, and of being so close to putting the last 13 months behind him, overrode everything else.

“It’s just really hard to put into words the experience, just to be back with the guys,” said Montador, who’s been participating in morning skates and practices for a couple of weeks now. “It’s just a real blessing and I’m just filled with gratitude that my recovery’s brought me this far.”

That recovery took another step on Monday — albeit in somewhat surprising fashion — when reports surfaced that Montador had been put on waivers by the Hawks, presumably to allow the team to send him to its AHL affiliate in Rockford for a conditioning stint. Given Montador’s concussion history and his hefty contract (he’s in the second year of a four-year, $11-million deal), it’s extremely unlikely that another team will claim him (though such a claim would relieve the Hawks of a significant salary cap burden — Montador’s $2.75 million counts against the cap whether he’s in Rockford or Chicago).

But by going through the waiver process rather than simply loan him to Rockford for an official conditioning assignment, the Hawks can keep Montador in Rockford for more than 14 days if they so choose.

Given how well offseason additions Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank have played while splitting time in the No. 6 defenseman role, Montador’s future with the Hawks is murky at best.

“We’ve got eight defensemen here and everybody’s played pretty well,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday. “Right now, he’s waiting his turn to get into the lineup.”

Montador said Friday that a stint in Rockford was a possibility, and called it a “logical step.” Given how infrequently the Hawks practice in this compressed season, it’s been tough for Montador to get back into game shape. Rockford could afford him that opportunity, even if he winds up staying there longer than he’d like.

Regardless, Montador is grateful just to be back on the ice, no matter where the ice is. For a while there — he suffered the concussion on Feb. 7 at Colorado, returned for one game on March 27 at New Jersey, and hasn’t played since — he wondered if he might never make it back.

“There was quite a little while where I didn’t know if I’d ever play again, just given the nature of the things I was going through,” he said.

That fear, combined with what Montador said was a physical symptom of his neural transmitters being prevented from connecting and being properly used by his brain, led to depression for the veteran defenseman.

He spent a lot of time with Daniel Carcillo — who was recovering from a torn ACL — over the past year, and the two bonded over their mutual fears and concerns.

“I know people talk about sports being a microcosm for life and it’s very true that way,” he said. “I can see why people have a hard time with a number of different things, and being taken away from something they love to do, and not sure if you’d ever get back the chance. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety and depression that come with that. I’ve had a lot of help to work through that, and I feel like I’ve taken the right steps.”

He’s not all the way back yet. He needs to take a few hits, give a few hits, skate a few long shifts, dive in front of a few pucks to know he’s ready again. Of course, if Quenneville called on him to play on any given night, Montador said his response would be, “[Hell], yeah,” but he knows his journey back is not yet complete — mentally or physically.

Montador described the last 13 months as a roller coaster, full of steady climbs and precipitous drops. But lately, since the season began two months ago, he feels its been all “up and up.” Now, he’s likely headed back down to the minors, but considering where he was just a few months ago, that could be a step up, too.

“That’s why I see this as such a blessing. It’s like a second chance,” he said. “I just realized how much I missed it, how much I would’ve missed it. I’m not fully back yet, but I’m just happy to be here in the moment.”

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