All Blacks captain Kieran Read has undergone wrist surgery and will miss the first five weeks of the Crusaders Super Rugby campaign.
The Crusaders hope Read will be available for selection in early April, which would give him seven games before the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in June.
The Crusaders also play the Lions on June 10, a fortnight before the opening match of the three-test series against the All Blacks in Auckland.
Read has handed over the Crusaders captaincy reigns to fellow All Black Sam Whitelock for next year.
The Crusaders coach Scott Robertson revealed the timeline for Read's recovery this morning before Whitelock was officially unveiled as the club's captain for 2017.
Read, who wore a brace on his right hand during the All Blacks' end of year tour, had an operation last week and is now undergoing rehab.
Robertson said he decided to install Whitelock as Crusaders captain on a permanent basis so Read could concentrate on his duties with the All Blacks.
"It was a decision that worked itself out really," said Robertson.
"With Reado's wrist injury, and him being an established All Black captain doing a great job, it was a chance for us to bring Sam in and balance that workload."
Robertson said he'd been considering a change of Crusaders captaincy since July and discussed his thought's with Read, Whitelock and All Black coach Steve Hansen.
"We [Robertson and Read] had a good open discussion, he'd thought about it himself. It wasn't something new or a surprise.
"He was really understanding. He'd have loved to have carried on but he understood it's probably the best thing for him and the team."
Robertson said Hansen also endorsed the change: "He said the balance was right. It was a pretty short conversation."
Whitelock also captained the Crusaders during the early stages of the 2016 Super Rugby season while Read took an extended break following the World Cup.